I became a Facebook user about 18 months ago. I have found it to be a marvelous tool for reconnecting with old friends. People that I could not have located with any other search utility. It is truly amazing, and very impressive what has happened with Facebook. I now keep in contact with people that I haven’t seen or heard from in over 35 years. This is remarkable.
So, Facebook has been to me just what the name implies. A forum for finding or meeting new or old friends. I have been dismayed by the current trend toward heated exchanges between Facebook friends. I have seen people that have not spoken in over 30 years reunite. They laugh, share memories and check out photos of each other’s kids. And then one of them mentions that they went to a Tea Party event. The newly rediscovered friend objects to the Tea Party, and types a short rant ripping on Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, and Glenn Beck. Or, someone types a warm and heartfelt entry about their admiration for President Obama. The other friend rips them with some sound bytes from Fox News, and assails Obama, and questions his citizenship. The fact that these entries are often being typed on mobile devices with tiny keyboards doesn’t help, and there are usually many typographical errors and bad grammar. Nevertheless, duty compels them to “stand up for my values”. The friends who were once simply glad to reach out and talk to each other are now at each other’s throats over something that requires a much more robust medium for the exchange of ideas than Facebook allows.
The problem, as I see it, is not the actual idea of discussing or even arguing about politics. I support this, and I engage in controversial discussions with many about many things. The problem with Facebook entries, is that they are limited (by design) to only allow a very short snippet. No political issue of any importance can be discussed with any kind of depth or significance in such a limited forum. What happens now is this: One person types a short sound byte that they have heard on either MSNBC or Foxnews. Someone else objects with an equally short and terse response. Someone else sees it, gets mad, and jumps in. Now all of these “Friends” are accusing each other of idiocy, greed, blindness, stupidity, arrogance, or some other unflattering quality.
May I make a suggestion that might save some friendships? If you want to discuss politics with any kind of persuasiveness and with any kind of real depth, at least send a message via Facebook to the one you want to dialog with, rather than making a status update. This allows a much more sane and personal interaction. It is also private, so people don’t gang up on each other. The other solution requires far more work: Start a blog. Learn to research your topics of discussion. Footnote or link to your sources. Think it through, and only write what you would say if you were sitting in the same room with your opponent. This will cut down on the hyperbole and exaggeration.
Ranting is easy. Reason and rationality require deep thought.
Wanting to prove you are right and seeking the truth are two different things.
PS: I know some of you may be saying “Hey, Tom! What about the Facebook impact in Egypt?”. That is another issue that will require another blog post. Feel free to blog about it yourself.