Monday, November 19, 2012

Facebook & the 2012 Election: Can We Still Be Friends?

You didn't have to look further than your Facebook news feed to see the rancorous divide that grew during the 2012 Presidential election. In fact, here's something that probably won't surprise you: A Mashable poll found that 47 percent of people on Facebook unfriended someone due to the election.

It's been two weeks since the election, so I hesitate to kick this particular hornet's nest. But the election raised a lot of questions for me, ones I'm still mulling over. Such as:

* When someone unfriends another person because of his or her political beliefs, were those people actually friends or just acquaintances? If it's the latter, is Facebook really the place to connect? To me, Facebook is where you connect with people you care about; LinkedIn is for people you do business with; and Twitter is for broadcasting to the entire world.
Image from Mashable
I have only unfriended one or two people in my years on Facebook. It wasn't because I disagreed strongly with their views; it's because they clogged my news feed with way too much meaningless stuff. Seriously, I don't need to be alerted whenever you step out of the hot tub.

* Isn't it unhealthy to only surround ourselves with people who think just like us? I'm not setting myself up as the poster child for diversity, by the way. I'm a Democrat and so are the vast majority of my friends. And I live in San Francisco, where Republicans are as difficult to find as convenient parking spaces.

One reason why many people only engage with those who think similarly is because they want to avoid conflict. I'm guilty here, too. But conflict can have positive results. Recently, I attended an excellent playwriting workshop in which the instructor said one character's driving need, desire or interest is blocked by another character, and that creates conflict. That conflict creates change, and change causes the characters to grow. If in real life we avoid interpersonal conflicts at all costs, aren't we denying ourselves the potential for change? Doesn't conflict, when it's resolved or at least expressed civilly and understood, lead to greater intimacy?

* Have we gotten too comfortable making assumptions about other people because of their political party affiliation? The truth is, nobody I know is all one thing or another. We're complex human beings with sometimes conflicting beliefs. For example, I know Republicans who support same-sex marriage and Democrats who favor the death penalty.

* How long does it take to repair a friendship damaged by political differences? Many years ago, a friend of mine expressed the belief that gays shouldn't be allowed in the military. The statement was made casually, just as many things are expressed today on Facebook, but it stung. I decided that person no longer my friend. Fast-forward to today. We are friends again--on Facebook, of course. And I'd all but forgotten this incident until Nick reminded me of it when reading a draft of this blog post.

* How much is too much when it comes to sharing political, religious, or other potentially divisive views on Facebook? Some people believe such topics are better kept off Facebook; others don't think twice about frequently posting their views. So what is the happy medium? One solution might be to create a Facebook group for your politically like-minded friends and only let that group see your most heated political postings. But that doesn't feel like a good solution, because you're making assumptions again about the people you're excluding. And by including people with different opinions, you might learn something from them.

* My last question is rhetorical but worth asking anyway. Wouldn't we be much better off if each of us considered the rights, needs and feelings of others along with our own, not just at election time but all the time?


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13 comments:

  1. What great questions...the ones that have plagued this southerner for the past twenty years since leaving Georgia for foreign shores...now in England where it's nice to be able to talk to someone from the opposing camp without it getting confrontational, nasty or religious. We discuss political ideas and it does open you up, but in the States I wouldn't dare. It seems to get so personal and religious and becomes less of a discussion and more of an argument. It's sad really...

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    1. Sasha, we can learn a lot about civility from the Brits. You're right, it often gets too nasty over here.

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  2. A great and always timely post. I found myself tempted to unfriend a casual aquaintance for this very reason. It wasn't the topic of the facebook posting but rather the viciousness (sorry to early to spell correctly) of it. I took a page from my husbands facebook and just hid the posting. What has happened to respect? And that comes from the most polite city in the country!

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    1. Thanks for weighing in Colleen. You can 'hide' (or is it 'mute') posts from people without having to unfriend them, which is what I sometimes do.

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  3. We are a country divided by two political parties managed by Special Interest. I am a Republican who doesn't recognize either side. You are right as usual we should not judge people. We have to listen snd all have the goal of fairness and respect. Now book or short stories please!!

    Tim

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    1. This election cycle we had two strongly different candidates on the social issues and that showed up on my Facebook feeds. I even wrote a post about it on Huffington Post. Many people took it as a personal attack when I questioned them on their support of certain candidates and told me I was "too gay" to see the truth. In those situations, unfriending them was the only thing I could do to stay healthy. We don't need to be friends on Facebook, if we are not in real life.

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    2. You both make great points, thanks as always for weighing in!

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  4. I found you via Jim at Ocean Breezes--I'm a San Franciscan in Mississippi. A liberal progressive San Francisco in Mississippi, and yes, I do feel sorry for myself on a regular basis! Re your post, I had to unfriend several family members since I have a tendency to get all smartass when I disagree with people and I guess I was hurting their feelings. So I decided to unfriend them, intending to refriend after the election. Little did I know, however, that unfriending someone is akin to telling them to f**k off and die! Oh well, c'est la vie--I'm too old to lose any sleep over this. Just found out that I'm a Ten Percenter--10% of white Mississippians voted for Obama and I'm proudly one of them!

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    1. I love it, you're kind of the opposite of me -- a San Franciscan in the South. I bet you've got lots of stories of conflict!

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  5. I especially enjoy what you wrote about how we surround ourselves with people of like thinking. I was raised to never discuss salary, religion or politics. (over the years, I've added a woman's weight to that list...) I'm just not good with confrontation, and wholeheartedly agree that I feel uncomfortable discussing politics with those who think differently than I. Yes, narcissistic, I admit it.

    And yet, I look around at my group of friends, and find we are all very diverse in our beliefs and political leanings. We have chosen to respect each other and not discuss too much.

    I am with Colleen on this one---I don't mind people having different opinions, but the sheer amount of ugliness I saw surrounding this election was disheartening.

    And Jimmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm, will you be my friend on FB? :-)

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    1. JuJu, thanks for your comments. And of course we can be FB friends. My address is http://www.facebook.com/jamesamartin

      See you there!

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  6. Loved your thoughts and comments today - so true. (I have never un-friended someone ---- yet ---- but sometimes have had the urge to tell someone to get real!)

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    1. We could all benefit from being reminded when to get real! Thanks for your comments.

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