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As We Enter This Election Season…

EPBOT had a great post recently on unfriending on Facebook; namely, people who tell people to unfriend them due to their beliefs.  As in, “Feel free to unfriend me if you’re going to vote for Trump.”

EPBOT asks an important question:

When did we become so intolerant of opposing viewpoints that we feel the need to sever all ties  – with casual acquaintances OR our closest friends – over things like GMO crops and health care reform? When did agreement on ALL issues become a prerequisite for friendship?

It’s not just challenging others to unfriend us, or begging others to unfriend us if they support or believe in x, y, or z.  It’s also the rabid unfriending that goes hand in hand with emotionally charged events like elections.  Unfriending (or blocking) the people who negatively impact your life, of course, but I’m talking about unfriending simply because you don’t share the same beliefs when it comes to emotionally-charged issues.

I think the vast majority of us don’t have to worry too much about Internet Mob Justice, but everyone on social media needs to deal with the slights and fights that occur on the personal level such as the unfriending, which feels akin to a shunning, simply because someone expressed their beliefs. It makes you think before you post, wondering if speaking aloud is worth it. It means that sometimes really good points aren’t going to be made because someone just doesn’t feel like dealing with the fallout from their friends or followers list.

Internet Mob Justice is the extreme — like a big, gaping wound — but that doesn’t mean that the paper cuts that occur within our small social media streams don’t sting.

We’re in election season again. It will only ramp up and become more intense by the fall.

I think EPBOT’s post is an important reminder that we don’t have to curate our streams so the only people left mirror our ideas. That we can listen. We can stop the name calling. We don’t have to belittle in order to make our point. And we don’t have to unfriend people along the way. If we disagree, we can think for a moment whether it is worth having a calm discussion, or whether it is better to scroll away.

What I’m trying to say is that I’m going to continue to be your friend and listen to what you have to say, even if we disagree on political candidates, religion, or a host of hot-button issues.


1 Katherine A { 08.12.15 at 8:24 am }

Having just had a rather unhappy dust-up on facebook over emotionally charged stuff with a family member, this is a timely post. I guess here’s my thing: I’m perfectly okay with being friends with people who don’t share my views. I also acknowledge that from the time I started voting at age 18 to now at age 32, my political views have changed fairly dramatically.

But – and this is my big issue – I have a hard time when people post stuff that’s graphic (such as dead/abused animals or worse) or that’s really unkind (“This will make liberals/conservatives cry!”). And right now, I’m having an especially hard time with the abortion debate – I was in a position with a very high risk that I’d need to be delivered, at the expense of my very wanted baby, to save my own life. In other words, it’s personal in a way it wasn’t before. And it’s hard to see people who have never been in that position saying very upsetting or at times, uncivil things.

I’ve gotten to the point where I’ll generally unfollow someone for a time who is posting things that I find to be upsetting, rather than unfriending. Then when I’m in a space to either scroll away or contribute productively, it’s easy to rejoin the conversation.

2 Erica { 08.12.15 at 12:23 pm }

Facebook’s “unfollow” feature is one of my favorite things. Instead of unfriending, I can choose not to see someone’s posts for a while (or indefinitely). This month especially is a time when I feel like my nerve endings are exposed and it’s nice to know that I can choose to avoid family & friends in the “It’s all part of God’s plan” camp or in the “all welfare recipients need to take drug tests” and “why are the immigrants taking all our jobs?” and “more guns are the answer” camps without forgoing Facebook connections and entertainment altogether. This summer it’s been helpful that I can shy away from friends who have very strong but not very nuanced views of the abortion debate (it really gets to me, too, Katherine A).

Unfollowing may actually be especially good for family members I don’t see that often. We don’t talk about gun control or politics at the holiday dinner table for many reasons, but one of those reasons is that this particular restraint allows us to enjoy each others’ company. Facebook tends to take all the groups in your life and lump them into one big audience (you can control what posts of yours go to which people, but it’s harder to control what posts from others come to you), and a lot of what’s posted on Facebook that drives me crazy is stuff that friends and family wouldn’t actually say or send to me directly because they like me and know me – the social media version of them isn’t the whole version of them; I try to remind myself of that when I get steamed up.

3 Ana { 08.12.15 at 12:46 pm }

Yeah, I disagree a bit. While I wouldn’t stop being friends/friendly with someone with different beliefs—and would be happy to engage in thoughtful and congenial discussion, Facebook doesn’t always make that possible. These days its less actual discussion or my friend’s voices but continuous re-posting of link bait memes and headlines—where no real conversation is happening. Or, while you may be able to respectfully debate an issue with your friend—not all their friends who jump into the fray are as civil and the conversation can devolve (this happened recently and I was so upset, it was as if I’d read the comments to a Yahoo news article—just—disgusting, and people calling me/my kid names that I doubt they would utter in person. I considered leaving facebook, but blocked that person instead, not because of them but the company they kept)
I’m on facebook to keep up with lives of far-flung friends & family and because some local friends use it as their primary mode of conversation for planning events (and to sell or give away stuff). I don’t need to feel upset/enraged every time I scroll through my feed. I definitely block people during election season or in general, if their content is making me angry/upset.

4 Charlotte { 08.12.15 at 12:52 pm }

One of the many reasons I got off of Facebook and don’t miss it at all is this. People get so worked up and angry and take it so terribly personally when people don’t agree with them. I don’t really have time for that in my life.
Personally, I really really hate discussing politics and religion; I have my beliefs and people have theirs, and I know that no matter what argument anyone has it is not going to change my mind, nor do I believe anything I say will change theirs. So I feel it is sort of pointless to get all worked up having these discussions.
I will talk about nearly anything else, but when these topics come up I am generally quiet.

5 Charlotte { 08.12.15 at 1:08 pm }

Oh, and I do agree with Ana in regards to blocking/unfriending. When I was still on Facebook, I definitely had to unfriending people who continually posted things that got on my nerves-there was the person who literally complained in every single post every single day (and most of her complaining was in regards to being a SAHM and kids driving her crazy and her not feeling well) the outright show-off bragger who you just no was so phony and full of crap, and then the suddenly single people who shared all of their exploits and endless “sexy selfies”. By the time I weeded through that garbage and those link bait memes and headlines Ana referred to, there wasn’t much left that was truly worth my time.

6 Sharon { 08.12.15 at 1:21 pm }

I don’t debate politics (or religion) with people. Period. So I make liberal use of the “unfollow” function on Facebook at all times, and particularly during election season, when the politically-charged posts become more frequent. (I use the unfollow function for other purposes, too: like the friend who’s a little too gung-ho about his/her gluten-free/all-organic/vegan/CrossFit/Couch-to-5K/marathon-training lifestyle, motivational quotes, and the like, or when I was trying to TTC, ultrasound/baby photos.)

I am not averse to having an informed, in-person discussion with friends or family about specific issues, but no one is going to change my mind — or vice versa — through a post on Facebook.

7 Kasey { 08.12.15 at 2:48 pm }

I’m perfectly happy to be friends with people who share different views on different topics. But I’m NOT friends with everyone I’m Facebook “Friends” with. Many people are old acquaintances or friends of friends who I met at a party one time. The expanded online world makes the friend distinction interesting. If all someone is doing is posting articles or images that make me uncomfortable I have no problem using the unfollow feature. The person is free to continue reading my posts and interacting with me. If it is an actual friend, someone I talk to and spend time with (yes, on the internet only counts) then I am more likely to engage in sharing and talking about differing views and understanding why this person may think differently than me. Or just scroll by, because it’s online. I fell less of a need to unfollow on Twitter – I don’t think I ever have because of differing view points only too much marketing – because of the tiny format and fast nature. It’s much easier to just keep scrolling.

8 Junebug { 08.12.15 at 4:10 pm }

I think views on this may be related to the role Facebook plays in your life. Personally, I utilize Facebook as a way to connect to family and friends at a distance and primarily to be connected to TCF groups around the loss of our children. For me, seeing headlines that are upsetting is a reason to unfollow someone. I actually enjoy talking about differences of opinion relating to politics, gender, race, etc. but only as a conversation where I can ask for clarification and learn about the nuances of someone’s beliefs. I don’t like being shouted at through a posting system that I use as support. Overall I think it is fascinating to observe how we all interact with these super new forms of communication and notice what how etiquette evolves.

9 a { 08.12.15 at 5:45 pm }

Apparently, I’m turning into the opinionated middle-age cranky lady, who feels no remorse about challenging people on their BS. In the past month, I took positions against people who posted the ridiculous Planned Parenthood video nonsense, an absurd Johnson’s Baby Shampoo is poisoning your child article, and a statement that if you just obey the law, you won’t have trouble with the police. Fortunately, I did not get any bad feedback on those comments (in fact, two of the three took down their links). I try to be non-confrontational in my confrontations – to recognize the positions that other people hold and still contradict them. If that’s not working, I don’t comment.

The person my sisters and I want to delete or unfollow most, though, is our aunt. She’s retired and spends much of her time posting silly or nostalgic photos/memes/links so that it crowds our feeds. I like to keep her stuff on, though, so I can catch gems like the one from yesterday, where she was reprimanding her granddaughter via Facebook. It was funny in and of itself, but to think about how my mom would have reacted to the whole situation…and my grandmother too, if she had been around for Facebook…makes me laugh and laugh.

10 Stephanie (Travelcraft Journal) { 08.12.15 at 5:58 pm }

Yeah, people can be so extreme. I keep saying (to everyone/no one in particular) “can we all just calm down, please?!” People have taken such hardline stances on things, when I feel like there is little that is really *that* important.

Also, Jon Ronson’s book So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed (http://www.amazon.com/So-Youve-Been-Publicly-Shamed/dp/1594487138) sounds like an interesting look at internet mob mentality.

11 Lori Lavender Luz { 08.12.15 at 10:27 pm }

I love that you posted this. I am richer for listening to and being friends with people who have different perspectives than I do.

12 Mali { 08.12.15 at 10:41 pm }

I read this and thought, yes, I totally agree. Then I read the comments, and found myself nodding along with them. Clearly, I just want to get along with everyone!

I know that I get frustrated watching the US election process. I cannot imagine what it is like to live through it as an insider. (Our six week election campaigns here drive me batty!)

13 deathstar { 08.12.15 at 10:44 pm }

That’s because you’re truly awesome. And very tolerant. I don’t think I’ve unfriended anyone on Facebook – not yet anyway, though I have unfollowed people who keep posting sex tapes. What I personally loathe are people who post “opinions” that are not based on any sort of fact at all. And they are not even willing to listen to informed conversations.

14 Geochick { 08.13.15 at 1:21 pm }

I love that you also read Epbot! I read that post too and she has good points. I seem to be pretty good at ignoring the bs posts. And the unfollow button is amazing

15 Middle Girl { 08.15.15 at 10:46 am }

When what is going on in my FB land is no longer fun or enlightening, I get off or adjust my feed toward making it more digestible. No, I don’t have to agree with you, nor you me, but I do insist on opinions based on knowledge, not seat of the pants, harmful, hate filled commentary. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

16 Nicoleandmaggie { 08.16.15 at 12:14 pm }

Add me to the disagreement side. I think it is perfectly fine to say that if, for example, you think women should have no rights, that I would rather have you unfriend than try to convince me that I should have no rights. If you think minorities deserve to die. If you think children should be beaten. There’s a lot of horribleness out there, some of it showing up in say, Trump supporters.

This being theoretical since I am not on Facebook.

(c) 2006 Melissa S. Ford
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