The Use and Misuse of Facebook

I spend a lot of time arguing with people on Facebook about politics. I feel very strongly that there are right and wrong ways to do it.

Politics on Facebook are very dangerous. By friending people who say things that you agree with and de-friending anyone with whom you disagree, it is very easy to slip into a comfortable cocoon of like-minded people on one end of the political spectrum who post only news stories and personal ideas that reinforce the world view of that group, and opinions about how stupid those who disagree are. Once this happens, you can frequently post opinions that are pretty dumb and that insult the living daylights out of people who disagree with you, with the experience that your posts go unchallenged and you get a lot of likes. You can become utterly convinced that you are intelligent and well-informed, when in fact you are nothing but an ignorant, obnoxious loudmouth who is utterly incapable of a civilized conversation with anyone with whom you disagree. There’s a lot of this going on.

The problem is exacerbated by the fact that Americans have come to so dislike the company of people who they disagree with politically that they have even been *MOVING* to areas with like-minded neighbors. So contact in our daily lives with people who disagree with us has been becoming rarer.

So one of your most valuable resources on Facebook is intelligent people who disagree with you and will say so. Every once in awhile they will prove you wrong, and when they do, it is important that you publicly admit it. They’ve earned that, and if it happens every once in awhile it is important that you reward them with that recognition, otherwise they might unfriend or at least unfollow you, and quit providing this vital service.

Another issue is that people who don’t know each other, by virtue of being in the safety of their physical isolation, can get much, much fiercer and more rude than they would be if they were sitting in the same room.

As a result of all this ferocity, many people who do have opinions hesitate to say anything but are really, really put off, being pushed in exactly the opposite direction of the posts that they are hearing:

If you want to discuss politics on Facebook, it is vital that you never friend any work colleagues.  There is a lot of talk about how free speech is jeopardized of college campuses, but that’s nothing compared to the situation in the workplace, where free speech as an ideal never existed.  The consequences of a bitter political disagreement in the workplace can be severe (I lost a job in 1999 without ever disclosing my party affiliation — just defending “the free market” when most of my co-workers were trashing capitalism was damning enough).

A lot of people never discuss politics on Facebook, but there is still a danger.  Watching all your friends show the best things going on in their lives, their vacations and their most photogenic selfies (and many people, especially young women, have become geniuses at digitally retouching their selfies) and seeing your friends do activities that they didn’t invite you to, can lead to quite an inferiority complex, or at least depression.

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