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Facebook And Civil Discourse

Welcome to My Green Vermont - A Blog by Eulalia Benejam Cobb.
By Eulalia Benejam Cobb

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?

12 Responses

  1. You can choose not to read her posts, by x'ing out one of the posts, and a little box will appear saying \”block this post\” or \”block all posts by this person\”. I have an acquaintance on the block, someone I do like, but who uses facebook to promote his special brand of veganism by posting graphic photos of slaughtered animals and stories about terrible animal abuses. I x'd him out, but I'm still a \”friend\”. He doesn't know–he probably just assumes I have little to say.

  2. I love your post. It's tough – that question of whether we learn more by being exposed to the way other people think. Or whether Facebook is in fact the place to do it. I don't have an answer.I do know that you can permanently Hide someone so you don't see their status updates. I've actually never \”unfriended\” anyone, so don't know if they get a message saying you've done it or not. I'm sure someone will know.

  3. If you roll your cursor over the offending post a little 'x' will appear in the upper right; clicking on the 'x' gives you the opportunity to hide the post or indeed all posts from that friend. This is a way to remove the rage-inducing posts of a person without actually unfriending them.

  4. If you unfriend someone on Facebook they do not get notified, however at some point they might notice. And I hear you, Lali. My Mississippi relatives as well as a few other friends have some political views that anger me.

  5. I know what you mean. I have a couple of conservative friends who also posted a lot and I found myself posting to retort. There was an escalation and I realized how much my blood pressure was escalating. I finally decided I would NOT post about politics. Since then I occasionally post a political comment, breaking my own rule, but what I discovered is my friends also seemed to slow their postings. So, for me, it was a win/win.Now, though, I seem to have a problem with my liberal friends! With all the Wisconsin and federal budget bruhaha, I never hear about them personally anymore!

  6. That's another thing that I lament about Facebook: it seems that the majority of postings are quotes of what others have said. One day we may be reduced to a half dozen speakers/writers on each side of the political divide, and the rest of us will just lob their quotes at each other.

  7. By the way, I think it is called \”defriending\” on fb, and they don't know it unless they wonder where you have been. Esquire magazine rule no 722: \”De-friending\” is not something a man should worry himself about doing or being done to him. I assume it may apply to women as well. ROTFL :-*

  8. No, they do call it Unfriending. Go to a friend's page, and near the bottom of the left-hand panel will be an \”Unfriend\” link.

  9. I was googling how to \”De-Friend\” someone on Facebook, and found this page. It is terrific! I actually have the same problem, but from the other side of the I have a person who was once a friend, but is now more of an acquaintance. He's Liberal and I'm Conservative. His posts used to make my blood boil. Since hiding his posts, my doctor has actually cut my bp meds, and my pressure hasn't been this low in years. But he is so boorish, and obnoxious that I just can't take him anymore. He made a comment on a reply I had posted to another friend that to me was quite insulting. I told him to mind his business and now will defriend him. I think it's just for the best at this is too short for all the useless annoyance. Thanks for letting me vent!

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