The level of vitriol and ridiculousness spread over social media is its own pandemic. Fake news, cognitive bias, and animosity have replaced critical thinking. If we could take a few steps back and think before we post, we could have a much better experience.
I am going to share with you my formula for writing commentary. This can be used for crafting an op-ed, letter to the editor, or even a simple Facebook post about a problem. By using this formula, you can significantly improve your chances of persuading readers and cut down on the noise cluttering up people’s news feeds.
- Start by grabbing the reader’s attention. This doesn’t have to be cute and clever. It should never sound contrived. But it should compel the reader to care enough to read further.
- Define the problem.
- Elaborate on why it’s a problem. Cite your sources. Include at least 3, and they must all be credible, unbiased references.
- Anticipate opposition. Cite at least one source that counters the point you’re trying to make, and then can counter that point.
- Conclude by calling readers to action. If you don’t offer a solution, you’re just whining.
Here are some other helpful hints:
- Be original. Avoid copy-and-paste sharing; that is the quickest way to spread misinformation.
- Speak to your own experiences. What have you personally seen or heard? Not hearsay. Not something that confirms your own bias. Not something that’s gone viral from the echo chamber.
- Avoid logical fallacies. These are statements that distract from the actual issue and therefore weaken your argument. For example, a Straw Figure (formerly known as a Straw Man) is when you can’t discredit your opponent’s argument directly so you create a false or distorted argument that you can dispute. A Slippery Slope is when you say that if A happens, B is sure to happen, even if it won’t actually occur.
- Be succinct. Say what you have to say in as few words as possible. Don’t waste readers’ time. Don’t try to be cute, clever or funny unless it comes naturally.
- Use language your readers will understand.
- Proofread your work before posting.
- Be prepared for backlash. If you take a stance on an issue, you’re going to have to stand by it. Even if you change your mind later and realize you were wrong, it’s highly likely someone took a screen shot of your post and will repost it just to humiliate you. There is no due process in the court of public opinion.
If our goal is to have valuable experiences on social media, we need to up our game. Stop making knee-jerk reactions, recirculating hoaxes and regurgitating discussions when we really don’t know anything about the particular subject. By writing clear, compelling content, we can add value to the time we spend online.