USA TODAY columnist Steven Petrow offers advice about living in the Digital Age.

With a year to go before we elect a new president, a third of U.S. senators and the entire House of Representatives, it’s already starting to look like a nasty beat-em-up free-for-all on my social media feeds, especially Facebook.

Not that my feed should be singled out; according to Aaron Smith, a director at the Pew Research Center, nearly 40% of us “like” or post about political issues on social media sites and that 65 percent of Americans now use them, up from 25% at the start of the Obama presidency in 2009.

“Politics in this country, for people who are paying attention, has always involved passion and heat. But the fact that Facebook and Twitter and social media generally mean that these postings are ubiquitous doesn’t necessarily mean that the political tenor itself is new,” Shannon Gilreath, a professor of law at Wake Forest University told me this week. He added: “I think the real change brought on by social media is that people who have little information and, frankly, less wit are able to bombard us with their political opinions with the click of a mouse.”

Still, with politics-oriented memes and gifs more popular than ever, it’s nearly impossible to escape the fire and ire of our friends, families and followers. But there’s hope, which I’ll get to in a minute.

Meanwhile, let me show you what I’m seeing: Gun control and second amendment debates have made these memes viral. Are you pro-life or pro-choice? No matter, there’s no shortage of memes or GIFS to express your position. Then there are those about the Democratic frontrunner, our former first lady and ex-secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, not to mention GOP candidate, reality TV star, and businessman Donald Trump.

What difference does all this make to our political beliefs? Pew’s Smith says self-reported data indicated that 25% of social media users became more active in a political issue after discussing it or reading posts about it, while 16% say they have changed their views about a political issue after discussing it or reading posts about it on the sites.

THE TAKEAWAY

— Keep your political posts to facts and figures and funny (not mean) things. Know what you’re posting about and keep it civil.

— When you comment on a friend’s post, again, keep to the facts, avoid rants and don’t make it personal – ever. “The only reason I would delete someone is if they trolled my posts with negative opinions,” said one poster on my Facebook wall in response to this question.

— If a friend’s Facebook posts are abhorrent to you, “unfollow” them until Election Day 2016. That way their posts and memes won’t be visible to you.  Or, if they really go too far, “unfriend” or “block” them. (This option is not recommended for family members with whom you may be breaking bread or sharing turkey in a few weeks’ time.)

— Join a closed Facebook group dedicated to your political point of view and rant all you want with those like-minded individuals. But don’t think that just because it’s closed, your posts will be private; they won’t be.

— Join Twitter and leave Facebook behind for now. You can “follow” those who believe what you do and they can reciprocate. In that way, Twitter is very incestuous, but keeping it all in the family can sometimes be a good thing.

Agree or disagree with my advice? Let me know in the comments section.

Submit your question to Steven at stevenpetrow@earthlink.net. You can also follow Steven on Twitter: @StevenPetrow. Or like him on Facebook at facebook.com/stevenpetrow.

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