The headline above ends in a question mark because it’s a thought that occurs to me often when I think about dividing lines among people, especially when I visit Facebook and see polarizing content from friends on different sides of the political spectrum.
To be honest, some of the content on Facebook–and remarks that Facebook friends make about the content on Facebook–
frequently send me headed in the opposite direction. Two conversations I have had recently with relatives, and one
conversation that comes up periodically with a good friend, tell me that I am not alone in my flight from the social
One relative told me that although she has a FB profile, she does not visit often because it’s a time-suck. Yes. I know,
Then she said that the things people post sometimes hurt her feelings. No, I didn’t know that, I thought. But I am glad to
know it now. When I post on Facebook, I will have more care for my audience.
The other relative told me, as we looked on her phone for something on Facebook, that she thought one of Facebook’s
reasons for existing was to polarize people. This was after I reported I had not been there for a while because I didn’t
want to see Facebook friends arguing about recent big news events.
When I said this, my relative nodded and said she had noticed I had been absent. Huh, I thought…I’d never thought of
people missing me. Why? Because I just don’t post that much. I was pleased to hear her say that she noticed my absence,
because it means that someone actually noticed my presence. Which I guess is precisely the point of Facebook: to see and be seen.
Still. I confess to not trusting you, FB, for manipulating my newsfeed. And I had never thought of polarization as being
a reason for your existence, until my relative spoke up. And I think she is right.
My conversations with these two relatives and the good friend who periodically leaves Facebook, as well as recent news
events, have led to my avoidance of my Facebook news feed and will again because I believe avoidance is healthier for
me than muting or unfriending friends.
Another truth: My choice to mute people on Facebook has worked for me a handful of times, but the choice to
unfriend seems so darned unfriendly. Plus the grammarian within me recoils at the use of “friend” and “unfriend” as
Noting my recent conscious decision to give Facebook a break, I have received thoughtful email bait from Facebook to
come back: “Doug has updated his status,” a message says. And sometimes FB goes back to the Dark Ages with a note that I
have “a poke” from a friend, which sounds offensive in almost any context and is old news to me because the “poke”
actually occurred years ago, before I knew even what a “poke” was. I am still not sure I know its significance, because
who can know what is in someone else’s mind? Especially someone you don’t know well. Makes me wonder if FB encouraged
this woman I don’t know well to give me a “poke.”
(And note to Facebook: don’t send me whiskery reminders unless you really want me to hate you. Do assume that I have
already seen the ancient “poke” even if I still do not understand its significance. And no, I do not want to poke said
friend back. Please remember what I said above about it sounding offensive.)
Because one of the conversations about Facebook occurred on Independence Day, I decided to make a personal declaration of
independence followed by three resolutions:
- I will never get “most” of my news from Facebook, despite the fact that FB wants to be a news source. That’s
like me wanting to be a brain surgeon. Ain’t happening. I have many news sources, but I have never considered you,
Facebook, to be particularly newsworthy, except about friends’ social doings.
- I will not blame any one thing, even you, Facebook, for the perplexing polarization that I see in politics
today. Well, OK, I blame you, FB, for aggravating the situation. But because I read, and because you, Facebook, are not
my source of news, I know that people got ourselves into this mess and that people need to fix it, even while you,
Facebook, so gleefully contribute to it.
- With the above statement in mind, I will no longer click “like’ on stories or statements or pictures that I
consider inflammatory. Good friends can assume I like it or not because they know me, and if they are unsure and it’s important for them to know whether I agree with them, they know how to find me. Those with whom I share a Facebook friendship but not a close personal friendship don’t need to know every darn thought I have ever had. Nor do I need to know theirs.
I resolve to remember that:
- People can do more together than apart.
- Jokes that denigrate someone’s age, race, gender, appearance, political leanings or religion are usually not
funny unless we are laughing at ourselves. Even then, they might not be so funny.
- Thoughtlessness hurts feelings. If I hurt your feelings by something I say, and you are a good friend, please give me the chance to apologize and resolve not to do it again.
I believe that with very rare exception, I am not going to change anyone else’s mind, especially with a Facebook post. I
began learning this lesson as an opinion page writer for a daily newspaper. This was a job that did not suit me well
because I not only have a fundamental lack of faith in my ability to sway others’ deeply held beliefs, I don’t really
want to sway anyone, although people sometimes thought that was my job. Differences of opinion are healthy in a free
society. It’s how we express our differences that matters.
So, Facebook friends, do whatever floats your boat and I will do likewise, which most likely means continued silent
lurking and sometimes vacating FB when opinions are inflamed. Nothing personal.