I have a Facebook \”friend\” whose political views are the exact opposite of mine. (How we became \”friends\” is irrelevant here.) Every few days she posts a video or a link to some TV commentator, talk-show host, evangelist preacher, or what have you making accusations, sarcastic remarks about, or fun of Obama, Mrs. Obama, Nancy Pelosi (oh, how they hate her!), and other liberals.
I never click on the links, but I cannot help reading the first few sentences. And I get mad–furious, in fact. I begin to plot ways to discredit, dismantle, and utterly ruin her worldview and that of her fellow conservatives and members of the R party. To make things worse, I imagine the reactions of this woman\’s fellow conservatives who are reading these links and getting a jolly laugh plus a heady hit of affirmation with every one, thus making escalating numbers of liberals like me angrier and angrier.
On the other hand, my in-box is regularly filled with status updates from friends whose liberal views I share, and who can be counted on every day to provide links to diatribes against and comedy bits about those benighted conservatives and their absurd causes. I seldom click on these links, but I do read the first lines, and I feel affirmed and supported and confirmed as a member of what is clearly the smarter, more ethical side of the political divide. I imagine that my fellow liberals get the same warm feelings when they read these messages, and conservatives who stumble upon them are enraged by them.
Multiply this effect by the millions of status updates and hits on Facebook every day, and is it any wonder that Congress cannot agree on a budget?
The thing is, if my conservative friend had to come up with these rants and sarcasms and accusations all by herself, she might pollute my in-box less frequently. Likewise, if my liberal friends with their itchy link fingers had to generate the jokes and skits and put-downs themselves, the pages of Facebook would have a cleaner, sparser look.
I think that Facebook, with its ease of posting and linking, its absence of editors, is playing a perhaps unintended but real role in the disintegration of civility in public discourse. Blogs and websites do this too, of course, but one has to choose to visit a certain blog or website. Whereas all you have to do is get on Facebook, naively accede to a few friend requests, and you\’re in the soup.
I don\’t want to add to the political warfare by slapping my conservative friend in the face, so I\’m hoping one of you can tell me whether it is possible to unfriend someone in a discreet, diplomatic way. Or would it be a better contribution to civil discourse for me to let her diatribes live cheek by jowl with the rants of my liberal friends?