Recently, I ended a one week absence from my personal Facebook account because of the Supreme Court ruling on the individual mandate. Why was I absent? I noticed on the day of the ruling that some of my many friends were posting responses to the ruling, most of them in celebration. As a moderate, I realized Facebook had become a dangerous place to anyone who felt strongly about the ruling either way. I changed my status to say I was taking a break for a week and got some Likes and some comments on how smart a move this was. However, I can’t help but feel that this should not have even been an issue. Why should anyone feel the need to run away from a social site? Is it right to chase away your friends?
The problem, as I see it, is simple. Facebook is a social networking website and political posts can be offensive.
Out of Site (pun intended) . . .
Say Person A is at a bar with their friends, the individual mandate has just been upheld, and Person A thinks about saying something. However, they look around at their friends and realize that one of them is not on the same side of this debate as Person A is, so Person A decides not to say anything and stick to less volatile subjects.
Facebook is like a virtual bar, but a person cannot look around the room and decide for the benefit of their friends not to say something possibly offensive. They are alone, so to them, there is no one to notice that may be offended. The chances are, in fact, that they will post something very offensive, and purposely so, without any thought that a friend may be offended. Such a post is basically when a whole group on the other side of the debate is decried for idiots. The problem with that is that some of the poster’s friends may be part of that group. The poster is not thinking of their friends specifically (if they are not trying to bait them, that is), but they have insulted their friends nonetheless.
The results to any political post, even the non-insulting ones, can be disastrous. A long lasting argument, name-calling (virtual blows), accusations, and possibly being de-friended. This can be especially damaging because of two reasons: the two people arguing may know each in real life with mutual real world friends in common and others can see the argument. How someone conducts themselves in this argument is reviewed, albeit informally, by their real world connections, including employers, colleagues, family, and friends. These people can make the decision to stay out of it (both on Facebook and in the real world), comment on it (in either world), or take action (as an employer may have to). Opinions of both/all parties of the argument may be changed.
How to Avoid This
The best thing to do to stop a future argument is to to keep one’s mouth shut. Take the “Thumper’s Mother” approach to political topics. Why? Because Facebook is a social network, not a political forum. If a person likes their friends (which they should if they are friends with them), then they should try their best not to insult or offend them.
Isn’t it someone’s First Amendment right to say what they think? Why, yes, it is. We, in the U.S., have an actual right defending our posts on Facebook (not specifically–but wouldn’t it be funny if it was that specific?). So what is stopping someone from being offensive to the max on their Facebook account? Well, social grace, one would hope. Being purposely inconsiderate of others can result in ostracization (or an outrageously awesome career if you are a video game reviewer). A person is allowed to express themselves but probably shouldn’t be purposely rude to others whether in the specific or general. Otherwise, they may end up losing friends or their job.
If a person is looking around Facebook and is insulted by someone’s political post, the first thing they should not do is be a jerk too by commenting on a post with rude and insulting language in return. That’s trolling and akin to “two wrongs”. Better approaches are: not saying anything or telling the poster (in a private message) that their post was inconsiderate. If the friend is not a complete ass, they will apologize and say they didn’t mean to offend.
When Insulted Again
If the friend is an ass, they may say they don’t give a damn if they offended anyone. At this point, it is better not to take it any further. Why? Because “you have the right to be offended, you have the right to offend, you do not have the right to not be offended”. Why? Well, because we are not Betazoids who can read minds and know when we are offending someone. I am a firm believer in avoiding something that actually bothers you (go to another website, change the channel/station, if you are offended, but don’t be chased away from public places like the park). We should understand that being offended is not as big a deal as one would think. Move past it; there are more important things in life. Harassment is another issue altogether because it involves persistent attacks as opposed to inadvertent insults or the expression of reasonable opinions.
Social or Political?
If one does wish to avoid political posts on Facebook, it can be somewhat tricky to distinguish between social and political subjects because social has two major categories: personal and societal. Personal tends to be the safer of the two choices because it is hardly ever related to something political. But personal topics are not inane as so many are? My exercise program is about as interesting to some of my friends as someone else’s toddler in potty training is to me. I’d say, though, that personal good news is always welcome no matter the type. Political celebration or protestation is best left as a comment on a news article where you can argue with strangers that don’t see you in the real world.