This week’s “Time” magazine (October 22, 2012) has an essay by Katy Steinmetz (p. 15) called “Unfriending the Enemy.” She notes that “The Pew Research center found that nearly 1 in 5 social networkers has blocked, hidden or unfriended someone over political material that was too frequent or too disagreeable.” One user is quoted, “The final straw for me was a post about how Obamacare requires all Americans to get chips installed in their skin.” Steinmetz writes, “now that many people can count everyone from close friends to crazy uncles to far-flung professional contacts among their Facebook friends, it’s important to keep the whole audience in mind, says consultant Jacqueline Whitmore. The original rule about politics and conversation, after all, was about having consideration or others’ feelings.”
Have you unfriended anyone on Facebook over politics? I’ve unfriended just a few, folks with whom I wasn't close friends and who annoyed me with partisan postings. (I recall that one was rather sneering about climate change.) I felt foolish afterward, because I do have many friends whose political postings I disagree with, and I've friends whose postings, while frequent, are more congenial to my own views. I've political views but I'm willing to listen to and appreciate diverse opinions, as long as folks aren't dogmatic or generalizing or angry. But then I thought, why should I have to get annoyed day after day, with persons to whom I'm not that close anyway? I suppose I could've just asked them to stop.
With a few friends I’ve reduced the number of status updates that appear on my "wall." In some cases, I care about those people very much and don't want their political views to hurt that caring. For instance, I realized a friend, whom I liked a lot in person, was a real Rush Lindbergh/Fox News fan, neither of which I can tolerate. I walk out on businesses wherein the store’s radio is tuned to Rush. But I don’t want to lose that person’s friendship. So I’ve just reduced such folks' statuses on my feed, until after the election. I do check their "walls" to make sure they're doing okay.
One time a FB friend and I discussed an issue on FB, concerning an article that I posted and found interesting. My friend took a position I disliked and when we discussed the matter, I felt like I was seeing my friend's point but not vice versa. We weren't meeting halfway. But I do tend to find political disagreements exhausting rather than productive. That’s just my nature, like my friend’s nature is to be more vigorous in discussions. So if you're like me and aren't really a debater, but you still follow politics and want to be socially engaged, you have to find a sense of genuineness, balance, and caring.
The thing is: I don’t think that Facebook is a really good way to discuss politics, because the lack of face-to-face contact might give you courage to be nastier than you’d otherwise be, and it’s difficult to convey nuance and genuine concern. When you watch candidates and TV advertisements, you may think all Democrats/Republicans are (as my dad would say) damned liars, hell bent on turning the nation into a socialist/fascist wasteland, but some of your friends who are Democrats/Republicans are probably good, solid people who, like you, want the best for the country. But you’re lumping them into the category of the damned, destructive liars!
My mother died two weeks ago, and nearly 200 of my Facebook friends posted prayers, words of encouragement, support, and interest as I announced her loss, made arrangements, and traveled to her funeral and burial services. I feel like the possibility of mutual, real-time support is the outstanding feature of Facebook. I keep that in mind as we s-l-o-w-l-y wind up this difficult political season.
I’ve begun to post articles that I find interesting, not on Facebook but on my blog. Somehow it seems more like a sincere sharing of social concerns, and of things I find interesting on both sides of the political aisle. There are some scriptural admonitions about being kind, gentle, thoughtful, and mutually supportive, and I do want to try to follow these teachings, even on political and justice issues about which I feel really passionate. It’s a struggle to find that balance, but a good one.