It’s that car ride with a child in the back seat, the trip that’s too short for a movie but quickly becomes too long when they pepper you with questions or begin to whine, “How much loooooonnnnnggggeeerrrr?”. When my stepson was about 5 years old we would try the “Hushmouth Game”. Essentially it was a plea for a few minutes of silence, an attempt to stop the questions, the whining and the noise.
Hushmouth on Social Media
As adults we can simply ignore someone’s posts/tweets or comments or “hushmouth” people whose opinions we don’t agree with by unfollowing them on Facebook, deleting their comments, banning them from a page, or using the “mute” or “block” function on Twitter. We then don’t see the climate/religious/food/political etc posts or tweets if we silence these individuals or groups. Sometimes these people may even be our friends, co-workers, peers or relatives.
Questioning is not Bullying
When someone posts or tweets something, it is first important to differentiate if they are expressing an opinion, or information they believe to be fact. There’s a difference between an opinion and a fact:
Fact: The USDA organic program certifies agricultural practices.
Opinion: Buying organic products will make you healthier.
People often post or tweet their opinions about controversial topics like genetic engineering, pesticides, vaccines, diets, health, politics and climate. If you are identified as a professional or expert in an area and you post something publicly; are you posting your opinion, or something that you want others understand to be a fact?
It is the right of those noticing your social media feed to comment and the mere fact that they take the time to respond to your post could be seen as a compliment. (Remember, if you didn’t want someone to comment then you should write it in your private journal, not on SOCIAL media.) However, you also have the right, if not the responsibility, to defend your opinions or support your facts with citations.
While disagreeing on topics can result in a healthy and open dialogue, this is frequently not the case. Some individuals, brands and groups don’t like to be questioned and may employ methods to “hushmouth” those that do question.
These methods may range from ignoring questions or comments to blocking or banning. At times personal attacks may ensue and these may be fairly benign like being called a “shill” or a pawn or a puppet for “Big Ag/Food/Pharma” or a “troll” ….this type of accusation can be easily ignored. A recent example occurred after Stonyfield debuted an anti-gmo ad featuring young children and then called individuals that objected to it “trolls”. https://www.forbes.com/sites/kavinsenapathy/2018/01/25/stonyfield-calls-critics-trolls-with-fake-names-after-backlash-against-ad-featuring-young-girls/#1d8ddfb83038
The more serious attacks question a person’s ethics or attempt to damage them professionally ( threaten their livelihood) in an attempt to silence.
When individuals or groups resort to name calling and personal or professional attacks it may cause some to retreat from social media. Others have mustered resources and allies to battle attempts at suppression and create groups like “Banned by Stonyfield” https://www.facebook.com/groups/146268869422320/ and “Banned by Food Babe”.
How do you know when to comment and what posts or tweets are worth commenting on? Pick your battles. Decide if it’s worth engaging. Can you keep the exchange positive and civil? Will you change this person’s or group’s opinion? Will the facts or sources you cite to counter their opinions be seen by others?
If the conversation escalates and attacks become personal or professional…..
- Take (or get a friend or ally to get) a screenshot of the post or tweet that is attempting to silence you.
- Report the person/group to the social media platform for harassment. (attach screenshot if possible)
- Let your friend or allies know about the person/group that is engaging in this behavior. Chances are good that the person or group that is attacking you has done so to others.
- Do not engage with the person or group. Mute, unfollow or block the person or group.