The final tally is in: the day after the election, I have five less Facebook friends than I did three days ago. Giving the timing and the fact I haven’t defriended a soul, I have to acknowledge I have been rejected due to my political opinions. I’d like to say this doesn’t bother me, but it wouldn’t be true.
For most of us, this was our first Facebook election and with a glance at (my remaining) friends’ posts this morning, I can see I’m not alone on the defriending issue. The result is admittedly disappointing. This was a first presidential election where we shared our political opinions online with friends, outside the context of face-to-face social engagements where we could decipher the body language of friends and know they didn’t share our views, and mitigate our charge accordingly. The result was arguably a lack of distillation: we concocted a strong brew that too often ended in rancor, and the final judgment: defriending. It would be interesting to see if Mark Zuckerberg decided to tally and release the post-election statistics.
I admit it. While my view is not widely shared, I like and want a good Facebook debate. When I get online, I’m eager to find those little nuggets of controversial opinion, with an article attached that supports their point of view. I enjoy arguing the merits of that opinion as rigorous brain exercise, even if I’ve long given up on the idea of changing anyone’s political opinion. I welcome the opposing point of view, as often as I enjoy the support of like-minded friends. I want to understand why they support a position I can’t embrace. Am I sometimes horrified by my friend’s revelations? Of course. Do I think less of them for holding such a seemingly untenable position? Definitely. In the moment, at least. Then I remind myself that my friend’s opinion of me is probably equally bruised. In fact, given the results, more so — they went to their friends list and plucked me. I may have gone too far.
So what can I learn from this? Not to post? Or engage? Don’t be myself? Where’s the fun, or more notably the friendship, and/or freedom in that?
No. I’m going to keep being myself and do the things I enjoy on Facebook. That said, there are some things I can –and pledge – to do in the future. A Facebook Pledge of Political Politeness, if you will.
1) I can acknowledge that my post is intended for debate, before I post any political opinion. And I can urge friends who do not share my view and/or enjoy debating to simply forgive and bypass the discussion.
2) Remember in any discourse that I friended these people for a reason. No questionnaire for geo-political like-mindedness was required. Even if I mentally despair at their political opinions, they have other attributes that I continue to admire, and furthermore, I should respect their intentions, even if I find their analysis lacking. They’re honestly trying to be the best person they can be, or they wouldn’t be my friends.
3) Make a concerted effort to find independent news sources (if there’s such a thing), forgo my affection for the station that only tells a story from the POV I already embrace.
4) Ignore contemptuous posts and abandon any debate that turns personal, to the tune of one friend telling another where to go and how to get there. Perhaps even mitigate exposure of my posts, if someone persists in getting too contrary. While I don’t think I’ve been the one to say something deliberately nasty, guilt can still be affirmed by association.
So back to my former Facebook friends: I’ll figure out who you are eventually, and yes, it will hurt to know you rejected me. If I unwittingly offended you by saying something personal, I apologize, that was not my intent, and invite you back. Conversely, if I offended you with my political beliefs, it’s probably for the best that you defriended me. I want to be friends with people who have different opinions than my own. I want the opportunity to learn from my friends, and/or just understand their POV, and/or simply admire their intellectual prowess. If you don’t share that point of view, well, then we were probably never meant to be friends in the first place.