I’m in the middle of a reboot of how I use Facebook, brought on by increasing frustration at the polarization of discussions. First, the problem, then the solution, I think, at least for me.
A bit of background. I have been a Facebook consumer and contributor for over ten years. I enjoyed the aspect of connecting with friends and coworkers and, later family (I was the first adopter for several years I believe in my family) and friends from years’ past. The latter was especially cool, connecting with people that I haven’t spoke to in years. Though my dad wasn’t enthusiastic about the idea at all, as he remarked “if I haven’t talked with them for so long, why would I want to start now?”
But the journey was blissful for the most part, as I enjoyed posts from people representing all phases of my life. Later, I followed various news organizations. Facebook became a primary news source for me in this internet age. Who watched the six-o’clock news anymore, anyway?
Then something odd happened, and not just for me, but for seemingly everyone. It must have been during one of the big elections, probably 2012, as by then Facebook had established its grip on Americana. People love to talk politics, but usually that’s reserved for bars and water coolers, not Thanksgiving or other family gatherings. Why? Because people can be very passionate about politics. But look out, now here comes Facebook, where anyone can broadcast their obviously correct opinion on anything to everyone!
If you have ever been on Facebook, you know what a mess that creates. Battle lines drawn, defriending, cutting people out of wills, cats and dogs living together, mass hysteria… Many people smartly stopped talking politics altogether.
I had to be different.
This polarization really got to me in 2012. I couldn’t understand why people had to be off or on, and not a dimmer switch, varying between lightness and darkness. I don’t mean to imply that any position is darker than another, I’m just conveying variance. To address, I created a page on Facebook, The Moderate Party. I think two people joined. I think it’s still there, I haven’t done anything with it in years (maybe I need to return to it). Creating it though taught me how to do so, which has helped out my two businesses in their marketing strategies.
Elections come and go, and polarization subsides, like a regular ebb and flow. I realized I could navigate the waves well, because they were never extreme. Then came Donald Trump.
Trump is, at the very least, an interesting character. He may hold the world record for adjectives hurled his way, positive and negative, if such were tracked. Most, including likely Trump himself, expected Hillary Clinton to be elected in 2016. When that didn’t happen, the polarization went into warp drive.
Here it is, 2020, and I, like others, are faced with a huge decision for this presidential election. I like to look for answers, and opinions, and discussion. Such is hard to find face to face in the COVID-19 environment. I turned to Facebook.
At first, I’d posts questions and links with commentary, often from a conservative source (I am a conservative though like to think I’m open-minded). Often, they’d elicit polarized responses, so I shifted strategy, mainly posting links from mainly centrist (as objective as possible) news sites or calling out the bias if not. I hoped that it would prompt rational discussion.
It did not. Truthfully, some responses were blatantly hateful. No need to go into details, as probably most reading this have experienced similar, just that if you indicated you aligned with a particular position you were instantly labeled to the extreme. “Choose a side” people said. How to choose when you’re trying to have a civil discussion to form opinions that will then inform the decision?
Nothing worked, and my reaction was to step back from Facebook for my mental, spiritual, and physical health. Yes, this whole polarization and lack of common decency to not even try to see another side literally made me ill. I wasn’t sure if I’d leave Facebook completely.
That idea made me angry. I have every right to voice my opinion. I also have every right to defend and protect myself from bullies, even when it’s not the intent. Because those kinds of Facebook post responses are nothing less than bullying.
That’s where I’m at today. I don’t want to lose relationships from years ago, many rekindled through Facebook, but I also don’t want to be bullied because I have opinions and views that others may disagree with. I haven’t figured out what I’m going to do, so in the mean time I “rebooted” (posted Windows Blue Screen of Death, then HAL 9000 and a generic programming background as my profile and banner pictures to signify the reboot and the programming that we have all endured to bring us to this polarized point). Now it’s “The Daily Dog”, a picture of a dog usually from Unsplash. After all, who hates dogs? I’m trying to step back into Facebook politics discussions, but my first attempt had disappointing results. I’ll just leave it at that.
Maybe the loudest win. But that doesn’t mean the silent have changed their mind. In some cases, it likely has strengthened their resolve. Maybe I’ll post about that tomorrow – after I post a Chihuahua for The Daily Dog.
Photo by Richard Brutyo on Unsplash