A picture of everyone having a nice time online together.

How to have a nice time online in the lead up to the 2020 election

Do you log on every day, only to find yourself having a miserable time arguing with idiots about stuff that either doesn't matter or won't be affected by your social media spat? This guide for having a nice time online is for you.

Much like each one that has preceded it over the past decade, this year’s election is set to be the “first social media election”. And there’s one campaign promise the New Zealand electorate should be demanding as a bottom line from all our political parties: that everyone has a nice time online.

If you’re part of this constituency, and have a residential address on Twitter dot com, you’ll know that the best way to ensure you have a nice time is to log off. To spend time with your friends, family and the natural world, or even just do some work while at the job your boss pays you for. Sadly, you also already likely know it’s too late for all of that. You’re circling the drain with increasing speed towards Decision 2020. There’s a revolution coming, and each turn is taking us all closer to the plughole.

But that doesn’t mean all hope is lost. There is still another way. Even though each one of us experiences our own version of online, carefully curated through follows and likes in the same manners as the personalised torments of Hades, we can take solace in knowing we’re all in hell together. And if we all remember some simple rules, we can have a nice time online this election year. 

Live, Laugh, Like

Without wanting to give away a trade secret of the PR profession, it can often be a good idea before posting to ask “what am I hoping to achieve here?” If the answer is “a nice time online”, then tweet away! If your motives are more complex, maybe think about what Twitter is good for. It’s great for jokes, if you’re funny. It’s good for disseminating news quickly, or debunking falsities. It is very bad, however, for changing people’s minds. If you’re hoping to win over someone with the name of a political party in their Twitter handle with reasoned debate, consider that they didn’t come online looking for guidance on how to use their undecided vote. Fighting on Twitter is like being a drunk arguing with a bouncer to be let in; except it’s not a bouncer, it’s another drunk, and you’re both just yelling in a carpark and the bar closed two hours ago.

Tweet drunk, edit sober

On occasion you won’t realise the thing you desperately need to say is dumb until you’ve said it. When this happens, the criticism will come in thick and fast and occasionally it may be justified! You may have unintentionally offended someone, or been too quick to share a damning report that you didn’t notice was published in 2005. How embarrassing. But luckily, since you’re not covered by the Public Records Act, you’re under no obligation to keep the tweet up, and since you’re not an asshole, you don’t need to dig in with unconvincing post-hoc rationalisations for why you were actually right! 

Remember, they cut Shakespeare in order to perform it – no-one will miss your tweet. The timeline, like a worm that’s been cut in half, will just fuse back together into the same inchoate writhing horror it was before.

Dunkin’ – Don’t

Sometimes – according to posters’ self-reporting, around 100% of the time – it won’t be you who is wrong online, but someone else. And there are few greater pleasures allowed in life than a good online dunk. Bullying a small child may give you the same feeling of power, but is less likely to bring you affirmation from a crowd of onlookers. Ceaseless humanitarian work that changes the lives of millions will pull in the same kind of public praise, but that’s boring and hard. 

But if you’ve seen someone who otherwise strikes you as posting in good faith make an error, or who is not in full possession of the facts, you may want to, instead of roasting them on the timeline, send them a friendly DM. The golden rule for dunking is the same as for any wildly insensitive behaviour that could hurt another person’s feelings in real life: only do it if it’s funny!

A stranger is just a friend you haven’t negged yet

Any time you’re tempted to anger, remember: other Twitter users are only human! Or they’re not. They may be bots. The important thing is it doesn’t really matter either way. You could be spending your child’s ballet recital debating an algorithm, a member of the Russian intelligence agencies, or a bricklayer from Timaru, and the experience - as well as the outcome - will be exactly the same. Try not to get so wound up!

Keep things quiet

With your best friends, you can often just spend hours in silence, without saying a word. And it’s the same with your good online friends, the mass of idiots on Twitter. Smash that mute button like your online sanity depends on it. If people are saying dumb, annoying things, but are not fundamentally bad, muting is not aggressive (unlike blocking, which is) – it’s an act of kindness, showing that you think highly enough of this person to not want to associate them with their own terrible opinions. They get to keep your high esteem, and you get to see fewer tweets. A win win! 

It’s often said that you get out of life what you put into it. Facebook and Twitter are the exact opposite. A social media post is too fragile a vessel to hold all your hopes for a fairer country, a less corrupt polity or the possibility that Jacinda Ardern will read see it and invite you to a whisky tasting at premier house because you “really get it”. No matter how furiously you tweet, you can’t control what happens in this year’s election, or how crazy it will all get. The only things you can control are how crazy you get, and whether you have a nice time online.

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