the intersection of social media and sharing political opinions
October 3, 2012 11:10 AM   Subscribe

I Want To Talk About Politics On Facebook vs. Get Out Of My Facebook, Politics: two arguments for and against using social media to share political opinions (presented on Thought Catalog)

From the first piece ("for"):
This is why the whole grand exasperation with the discussion of politics on Facebook absolutely baffles me. People telling others to shut up about their political views on Facebook are legislating how others use the service, yeah. Abstain from the dialogue or hide it if you’re not interested, but handing out dictums through image macros or impassioned essays is weird, dude.

It’s especially weird given that we’re all self-governed in our use of this platform — it is all voluntary. And yet I’m supposed to allow access to myself, my whims, the pictures of me hugging my friends and pets, my often-personal interactions with my real-world friends, my boyfriend, whatever, to people who are so offended by my values that they don’t even want me to talk about them in my own domain?

Really, dude? You’re “friends” with someone such that you desire this voyeuristic access to their life, or assume they should desire to see yours — yet you disagree so deeply with them expressing their feelings on issues of national and international concern that you want them to shut up? If their views on core human issues stand in such offensive polarity to yours, why are you going to be “friends”?

It’s considered impolite to discuss controversial issues in a casual public setting without invitation. You wouldn’t attend a professional event or a birthday party and begin a debate, it’s true. But social media is designed as an individualist platform where people are allowed to represent themselves for an audience of presumed allies, and you don’t get to tell them how to do it...
From the second piece ("against"):
“Facebook is the perfect platform for constructive political discourse,” said no one ever. Like, EVER. Even Taylor Swift agrees. But really, the only political thinking Facebook was made for is the kind you do when wondering whether or not to de-friend someone. The only thing I really want to know from your Facebook is who you’re dating, where you went to school, and whether or not you got fat. I’m not interested in your paraphrased version of some article you read in The Atlantic last week… because Facebook is just not the place for it.

...“Liking” a political figure or someone’s comment is not the same as voting or forming an opinion about something like healthcare in real life. Facebook was made for broadcasting and disseminating likes and generalities… not discussing them at length. Everything from the small size of the status box to the caption under your photos is meant for brevity. Facebook is meant for generalities, not specifics. And unfortunately, politics is nothing but messy specifics. Facebook just isn’t the place to spout long-winded arguments and opinions. Logistically, it’s almost a misuse of the site, and aesthetically, it just looks bad to the eyeballs.

In this same respect, Facebook reduces peoples’ opinions to dichotomies. Left or Right. Liberal or Conservative. Care or Don’t Care. With such limited space, it’s difficult NOT to sound politically extreme on Facebook. And to me, this is dangerous. Because, in real life, is anyone really 100% Left or Right? I think people and ideas are too dynamic. Not that we should all become moderates, or that I want to make a statement about party politics, but in terms of Facebook, this extremism makes it difficult to respect others’ opinions (especially those on the opposite end of the spectrum). Rather than emphasizing commonalities, I think Facebook highlights our differences with very little room for real conversation and explanation. And this makes it hard to have the kind of discussions necessary for positive change and improvement.
posted by flex (78 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
If you hate someone posting about politics all the time, accept that they’re into it and you’re not.

People talking about Politics on Facebook is the single best thing to happen, as far as keeping my feed manageable. I like having easy access to everyone I have ever known, but I don't like having to actually hear from/about them. I think my feed represents about 10-15% of my total friend list. And how did I pare that down? POLITICS! Said something I disagree with on a level that I actually want to argue? REMOVE FROM FEED. Getting into a vehement argument and clearly not letting up? REMOVE FROM FEED. Said something seemingly innocuous but actually full of dogwhistles for the Bad Guys? REMOVE FROM FEED.

At this point, I have an echo chamber matching my own political views (and, really, that's all I ever wanted from Facebook) and one really hardcore objectivist I haven't removed as a reminder as to why I do this. I'll save my vehement arguing for comic book continuity, thanks.
posted by griphus at 11:17 AM on October 3, 2012 [11 favorites]


"Social media is doing unimaginable things to our understanding of other people. The average Facebook user has 190 friends, and the majority of people I know have at least 500 or more. I mean, if I look at someone’s profile and they have fewer than 200, I find myself thinking, “oh, a quiet type, eh?”"

Similarly, it turns out that more than half of all Facebook are of below average intelligence.
posted by Blasdelb at 11:21 AM on October 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I friended the breeder I got my puppy from so that she could see pictures I posted of him growing up, but I hid her on the feed after the third Tea Party posting. A pity, because now I can't see pictures of her other cute puppies.
posted by charred husk at 11:25 AM on October 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


If we start compartmentalizing and excising certain parts of who we are and how we define ourselves like this just to avoid conflict, where does that process end, exactly? Should I avoid saying I liked the movie "Twelve Monkeys" just because there are some people too immature and petty to accept and cope with the social reality that there are people in the world (never mind their own social circles!) whose opinions/tastes/beliefs differ from theirs to some greater or lesser degree?

No way. Now if someone in my FB friends list likes to post nasty (casually racist, say), incendiary or abusive remarks about me or whole categories of other people/Americans, then I will un-friend them. Because I've got plenty of other old friends who didn't turn into bitter assholes as they got older, and odds are, we aren't actually friends anyway.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:26 AM on October 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


I mean, if I look at someone’s profile and they have fewer than 200, I find myself thinking, “oh, a quiet type, eh?”"

Well, I've only got about 180 friends on FB, and I'm not exactly the quiet type. Picky about who I associate with, sure, but not so much quiet. And most of these are actual friends that I still know something about and at least occasionally keep in touch with IRL. But then, I'm known to take long vacations from FB, and honestly I kind of avoid it as much as I can because, dammit people, I've got work to do and that shit is addictive and time-wasting! Visit the damn site for five seconds to check your feed and suddenly its two hours later and you've wasted an entire evening you might have spent writing or doing something else productive!
posted by saulgoodman at 11:31 AM on October 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


I use politics and babies to figure out who to unsubscribe to without unfriending. I just need more friends with cats.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 11:31 AM on October 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Someday a study will be done, and it will show that real usage of social media dips during election cycles. Because of the sheer cognitive load of dealing with the facets of your family and friends you don't like. I'm sure I'm removed from a LOT of news feeds.
posted by DigDoug at 11:31 AM on October 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


I would generally agree that if you are unfriending someone on Facebook because they posted a status or comment that you dislike, then you probably weren't really friends anyway.
posted by cribcage at 11:33 AM on October 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


I mean, if I look at someone’s profile and they have fewer than 200, I find myself thinking, “oh, a quiet type, eh?”"

No, I just don't know a lot of people who feel the need to show everyone pictures of their dinner.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:33 AM on October 3, 2012 [11 favorites]


I like political posts almost as much as religious posts and give all my friends a 3 post limit, then I hide their feed. It doesn't matter whether they're on my spiritual/religious side or not. I feel it's disrespectful to to proselytize.
posted by buggzzee23 at 11:34 AM on October 3, 2012


My facebook account is purely for work purposes (I'm not even "friends" with my wife), so I don't really have a dog in this race.

That said, I'm for intelligent good faith political discourse everywhere and knee-jerk partisan cheerleading nowhere.
posted by 256 at 11:34 AM on October 3, 2012 [7 favorites]


One thing I've noticed is that more news sites requiring people to sign in using their FB accounts in order to leave comments has most decidedly not resulted in a reduction in racist/sexist/otherwise offensive posts.
posted by The Card Cheat at 11:35 AM on October 3, 2012 [13 favorites]


(For the unoffensive but annoying stuff, the "hide" and "less of this person in my feed" features are really my best Facebook friends.)
posted by saulgoodman at 11:35 AM on October 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


I use politics and babies to figure out who to unsubscribe to without unfriending. I just need more friends with cats.

I use a ratio of forwardrd gifs vs. actual content to decide who I'm subscribing or not. You could have political views that match mine totally, but if all you're doing on FB is forwarding 20+ GIFs that you're getting from political feeds or other friends, then I'm going to unsubscribe from you. Because I want to read what *you* have to say. OTOH, I do keep on the rabid tea Partier (who friended me out of the blue) because she will actually post her own views, and it gives me a window into viewpoints that are completely divergent from mine.

(And then there's the childhood friend who uses a 'status generator' to generate a status for her FB feed. Like, how hard is it for you to type your own status, even if it's vapid like "I had a good day todat LOL" even once in a while? Yeah, I'm looking at you, Geraldine.))
posted by spinifex23 at 11:36 AM on October 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Everything from the small size of the status box to the caption under your photos is meant for brevity. Facebook is meant for generalities, not specifics.

Guess this person never noticed the "Notes" feature or the fact that you can link your blog's RSS feed to FB.

I think FB is not really "meant to be" anything other than a web platform that will attract as many users and can aggregate as much of their info to sell to advertisers and marketers as possible.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:39 AM on October 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


A bit more thought on this. I avoid politics on Facebook for the same reason I avoid politics around my grandparents. The first essay says,
It’s considered impolite to discuss controversial issues in a casual public setting without invitation. You wouldn’t attend a professional event or a birthday party and begin a debate, it’s true. But social media is designed as an individualist platform where people are allowed to represent themselves for an audience of presumed allies, and you don’t get to tell them how to do it.
Social media is a lot of things to a lot of people, not just "an individualist platform where people are allowed to represent themselves for an audience of presumed allies". For those who focus on keeping in touch with family, "presumed allies" is laughable. I don't talk politics with my grandparents because they'll go off the handle at the slightest hint I'll vote for Obama - but I love them anyways. If I talk politics on Facebook, even just to comment on someone else's post, I invite discord where I don't really want any. I just want to know how my friends' kids are doing, not get in a shouting match about Obama.

I don't mind if someone posts about politics, I can move on to the next entry easily. But it gets tiresome if it is post after post after post. I'm not going to engage it so it's just taking up space. I just want to see how the puppies are doing. So, hidden until after the election.
posted by charred husk at 11:42 AM on October 3, 2012 [5 favorites]


I have very little room in my life for misogyny or racism, or classicism or homophobia. As a result, I unfriend anyone who turns out to be a piece of shit after a couple of strikes. Why do I want as friends people who, at their core, are assholes?
posted by maxwelton at 11:49 AM on October 3, 2012 [11 favorites]


"“Facebook is the perfect platform for constructive political discourse,” said no one ever. Like, EVER.'

I actually said it a few weeks ago, and I'll say it again.

I am friends with about a dozen people with whom I hold opposing political views. Because I am actually friends with them, Facebook allows us to civilly discuss our differences in a respectful and relatively intelligent manner.

Unfriending people or or blocking political posts you disagree with just reinforces the bubbles that polarized America increasingly lives in. Spend a few minutes to offer thoughtful rebuttals. My friends are not Sarah Palins, who delete opposing comments, and some FB comment threads are actually one of the few places for respectfully debating politics between people who disagree.
posted by jetsetsc at 11:53 AM on October 3, 2012 [16 favorites]


Should I avoid saying I liked the movie "Twelve Monkeys" just because there are some people too immature and petty to accept and cope with the social reality that there are people in the world (never mind their own social circles!) whose opinions/tastes/beliefs differ from theirs to some greater or lesser degree?

Well, if you're talking about Twelve Monkeys, this is an excellent point. On the other hand, if you're planning on praising the Justin Bieber movie "Never Say Never", then you and me have got some serious "issues" to address outside. ::Rolls up sleeves, cracks knuckles::
posted by wolfdreams01 at 11:55 AM on October 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


As a result, I unfriend anyone who turns out to be a piece of shit

Okay, I have to ask. Are you just accepting friend requests from random strangers, or what? Do people even get friend requests from random strangers? I don't think I have. I've gotten a few mistaken requests, and two from local politicians who were trying to add everybody possible from a mutual pool, but I don't think I have ever gotten a friend request from some total stranger who just, like, wanted another Facebook friend.

I thought that was the whole point of Facebook: You aren't "meeting" people, you are connecting with people you already know. Under what circumstance are you suddenly discovering, "Hey, it turns out that Aunt Irene is a total piece of shit!"
posted by cribcage at 11:57 AM on October 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


If I had all my facebook friends in the same room it's quite possible a civil war would break out.

This has the effect of causing me to throughly think about anything I MYSELF post, and that's really not a bad thing.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 11:57 AM on October 3, 2012 [8 favorites]


"Social media is doing unimaginable things to our understanding of other people. The average Facebook user has 190 friends, and the majority of people I know have at least 500 or more. I mean, if I look at someone’s profile and they have fewer than 200, I find myself thinking, “oh, a quiet type, eh?”"

Or they hate Facebook, and only have an account to accept event invitations or to share photos with elderly relatives. Seriously - the over 60 set in my family seem way more excited about facebook than anyone under 60.
posted by jb at 11:59 AM on October 3, 2012 [5 favorites]


Guess this person never noticed the "Notes" feature or the fact that you can link your blog's RSS feed to FB.

Facebook: "We want you to connect with your fans in the most effective ways possible. That's why as of September 30th [2011] you'll no longer be able to automatically import posts from your website to your Page notes."
posted by stopgap at 11:59 AM on October 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


It reminds me, Adam Cadre had a thing a while ago where he classified the major social networking platforms more or less as follows:
Facebook: babies
Twitter: short-form comedy
Google+: detailed exegesis of academic literature
So for the second author it seems like G+ would probably be a better venue.

That said... Messy details certainly matter in politics (e.g. is the mandate in Obamacare a fee or a tax?). But to argue that they are the only or even the primary thing worth discussing is itself a very specific and particular political view - a sort of Clintonian, third-way, wonkish perspective. In this context I actually think there is something a little anti-democratic about it. It subtly sends the message, "politics is hard and messy and complicated and unless you can devote serious time to study all of the nitty-gritty, you just shouldn't think about it at all." First of all I think this sells people short (as others have said above) and secondly, it misses that politics is also of course about moral and ethical issues.
posted by en forme de poire at 12:02 PM on October 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


You aren't "meeting" people, you are connecting with people you already know.

Most people I know didn't really develop their personal politics until after high school. When you're reconnecting with someone you lost touch with before they became an adult, they may as well be a stranger.
posted by griphus at 12:02 PM on October 3, 2012 [6 favorites]


This thread has given me an idea, and I shall share it so someone can do it. It is a new service called CatDogFace, and is limited to pictures, short videos and tales of adventure (or napping) for your dogs and cats ONLY. (Possibly to add rabbits later.)

Note: I don't do FaceBook. People suck. Except you guys.
posted by Glinn at 12:02 PM on October 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


This sarcastic card expresses my feelings on the matter perfectly.
("Oh, are my "political" posts annoying you? Sorry, I thought the future of our planet was worth discussing. By all means, show me another picture of your dinner.")

Also, it's just Facebook. When someone posts anything to it, they aren't really talking to you. With this in mind, it's pretty easy to just skim past lots of crap in my feed without taking things personally. On the other hand I don't enjoy debating.
posted by The Biggest Dreamer at 12:03 PM on October 3, 2012 [4 favorites]


jetsetsc:
"Unfriending people or or blocking political posts you disagree with just reinforces the bubbles that polarized America increasingly lives in. Spend a few minutes to offer thoughtful rebuttals."
Bad experiences with this in the past, at least when dealing with the more Tea Party-esque Faccebook friends. There's too much epistemic closure going on for it to be just "a few minutes to offer thoughtful rebuttals", it becomes a round and round banging of conflicting sets of "facts" that never ends. In person, with someone who's game to go at it, I have no problem since there is more time to use more words. But on Facebook it becomes a battle of unending essays that can sometimes result in bad feelings. It isn't worth it, not to me. Facebook isn't where I want to try and change the world from. I type too slow and there isn't enough space.
posted by charred husk at 12:05 PM on October 3, 2012 [12 favorites]


You aren't "meeting" people, you are connecting with people you already know. Under what circumstance are you suddenly discovering, "Hey, it turns out that Aunt Irene is a total piece of shit!"
posted by cribcage at 1:57 PM on October 3


In addition to using FB to keep up with friends and relatives, I use it to network with other writers and publishers. Probably more than half of my "friends" are people I don't know in real life. I don't de-friend FB friends-who-are-strangers when they turn out to be racist/sexist/homophobic/etc, because we can still talk about writing, and it gives me a window into how people like that think, but I do tend to dampen them down to the "only important posts" feature (which I use for a lot of people anyway because otherwise I'd never see my actual friends' posts).

Bad experiences with this in the past, at least when dealing with the more Tea Party-esque Faccebook friends.
posted by charred husk at 2:05 PM on October 3


Me too, but I've also had some really interesting exchanges, most recently with a Todd Aklin fan who thought the guy had been taken out of context and who I was able to provide with some statistics about abortion that he hadn't known, and who was able to help me understand how a reasonable and generally nice person could vote for somebody like Akin. Win-win, even though he didn't change my mind and I probably didn't change his.
posted by joannemerriam at 12:08 PM on October 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


I have plenty of people (relatives and old school acquaintances, mostly) on my FB feed who are my near-diametric opposite in political terms, but I wouldn't dream of hiding/dropping them. Why? Because although I am both firm and outspoken in my opinions, I am terrified of the idea of being stuck in an ideological bubble of my own design.

I want to see what people on the "other side" think, and how they construct their arguments. I want to be challenged on my assumptions. I want someone to try to change my mind. I couldn't care less about seeing pictures of people's babies, dogs, and steak dinners; I want to be able to talk about ideas, politics included. If the quality of political arguments on FB isn't to your liking, then step up and elevate your circle's discourse.

To paraphrase the late Harvey Pekar, Facebook (like comics) is just words and pictures. You can do anything with words and pictures.
posted by Strange Interlude at 12:08 PM on October 3, 2012 [11 favorites]


Metafilter: for intelligent good faith political discourse everywhere and knee-jerk partisan cheerleading nowhere.
posted by herbplarfegan at 12:16 PM on October 3, 2012


"We want you to connect with your fans in the most effective ways possible. That's why as of September 30th [2011] you'll no longer be able to automatically import posts from your website to your Page notes."

Aw damn! Well, FWIW, I've basically abandoned my blog, too, so it all comes out in the wash...

Okay, I have to ask. Are you just accepting friend requests from random strangers, or what? Do people even get friend requests from random strangers?

My wife's got like 500+ FB friends, most are online-only acquaintances from various online groups she belongs to, but she gets the odd stranger, too, sometimes. I've gotten a couple of random requests, from what seem to be either online call girls or fake spam accounts or something, but yeah, those are pretty easy to reject. I don't understand why some people want/need so many pretend friends! It's not even physically possible for humans to care about that many people! 150's basically the established upper limit for our ability to care about others!
posted by saulgoodman at 12:26 PM on October 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


I am pretty sure my upper limit is 1 human (me obvsly) and limitless puppies.
posted by elizardbits at 12:32 PM on October 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


Unless hot fictional werewolves count.
posted by elizardbits at 12:33 PM on October 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Facebook - that's where people go so they can complain that the people they went to highschool with who stayed in that small town are now Conservative Christians that they have nothing in common with, but never ever consider unfriending them.
posted by Artw at 12:40 PM on October 3, 2012 [6 favorites]


I have no problem with politics but most of what passes for politics on Facebook is racism.
posted by chaz at 12:42 PM on October 3, 2012 [10 favorites]


Happily, the few people I've friended from high school have not grown up to be assholes. Or at least, they don't broadcast it on fb.

But I wouldn't be surprised if I've been blocked by a few people recently because of all the pictures of rocks I've been posting. Now that I'm home from vacation, there will likely be more pictures of cats. And cocktails.
posted by rtha at 12:45 PM on October 3, 2012


Also, sometimes I wish MetaFilter was a little more HTML friendly just so I could post this followed by this, as the most perfect and concise illustration of my opinion about Talking Politics on Facebook.
posted by griphus at 12:51 PM on October 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


FB has actually helped me in terms of owning my own political views, to wit; several of my dearest FB friends are gay. When I post something pro-marriage equality or otherwise supportive of LGBT stuff, I know it means a lot to them (many of whom are not able to be that open) and it's one tiny thing this straight girl can do for them. My family thinks I'm Lefty McHippie, but they also no longer say gay hating crap around me, and possibly some of them (younger ones anyway) have even rethought their views. Whereas I used to be "discreet" about my leftyness, they all know about it now, and have mostly just shrugged, though I have occasional arguments.

It has been endlessly surprising to me that people who never wanted to come to youth group with me in middle school because it was stupid are now all about the Jesus, while I've gone the other way. Most of them still follow me, possibly because I don't use image macros for political stuff and post as many funny things as political ones. Or they're praying for my soul. Whatever.
posted by emjaybee at 12:52 PM on October 3, 2012 [8 favorites]


My Facebook friends are in three general categories: high school people who friended me and I was like eh whatever and friended them back, who are mostly rural(ish) conservatives; fire spinners and drum circle and pagan festival friends who are, well, pagan drumming firespinner types; and local friends who are mostly rural(ish) liberals with a healthy dose of fandom sprinkled on top.

It's like being in three entirely separate echo chambers at the same time. It's kind of fascinating to watch how they're all reading completely different interpretations of the same events.

(I only defriend the POST THIS CALL TO ACTION ON YOUR WALL OR YOU HATE FREEDOM AND KITTENS) forwarders, who come in roughly even numbers from all three groups, plus one or two active racists and a handful of permanently morose sad sacks who I just couldn't tolerate anymore.

On preview: artw, guilty as charged!
posted by ook at 12:53 PM on October 3, 2012 [4 favorites]


I'm for intelligent good faith political discourse everywhere and knee-jerk partisan cheerleading nowhere.

I just put 256's comment on my FB Status. What side does that put me on?
posted by j_curiouser at 12:55 PM on October 3, 2012


Similarly, it turns out that more than half of all Facebook are of below average intelligence.

And the vast majority of people have less than the average number of hands.
posted by Slothrup at 1:02 PM on October 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


Ook - top tip: if you get into a fight with the hillbillys don't expect Mr. Or Mrs Ook to give a damn, or at least expect a lot of eyerolling and "you left that town for a reason".
posted by Artw at 1:03 PM on October 3, 2012


Posting pics of my food is even political. It's a jungle out there.
posted by Chuffy at 1:08 PM on October 3, 2012


A while ago I installed Social Fixer on FB to weed out the "trending articles" nonsense, with the unexpected outcome that it helpfully informed me that three members of my extended family unfriended me completely after I posted this article. They didn't just hide my feed, they cut me out completely. Which just made me think that piercing their bubble occasionally might actually be doing a favor to all those relatives who live in Fox News World.
posted by ambrosia at 1:11 PM on October 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


Artw: I did, in one weak moment, wade into one of those (with a landlord who was guffawing online about how he'd turned down a renter because the guy was gay. I know, right?) After a few fruitless exchanges I came to my senses, posted a link to the "Someone is wrong on the Internet" comic, and stopped talking.

The fun part was watching awareness of the existence of XKCD trickle into that particular corner of the Facebook over the next few days.
posted by ook at 1:17 PM on October 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Wow, this is somewhat true in my case.

Facebook - that's where people go so they can complain that the people they went to highschool with who stayed in that small town are now Conservative Christians that they have nothing in common with, but never ever consider unfriending them.
posted by Artw at 12:40 PM on October 3


That said, if they are going to post virulent right wing talking points I'm happy to debate them. It's often more enjoyabe than just deleting the posts.
posted by Rashomon at 1:19 PM on October 3, 2012


"Unfriending people or or blocking political posts you disagree with just reinforces the bubbles that polarized America increasingly lives in. Spend a few minutes to offer thoughtful rebuttals

This is admirable, but in practice—in my own life, at least—it's just not worth my time. I use Facebook as a social calendar and event planner; my "friends" are all actually friends and I don't go out of my way to befriend people on Facebook that I might not get along with IRL. So mostly the problem never comes up. When it did, once, with a friend who became crazed over Glenn Beck and ACORN, I finally just deleted her. If she believed everything Glenn was telling her, then I wasn't the kind of person she really wanted to socialize with, anyway.

Far be it from me to stop anyone from trying to bind up this country's ideological sores, but that isn't what I use Facebook for.

Last year I was contacted by an old high school friend who'd become a Tea Party/Sarah Palin fan (though, oddly, when I remarked on that, he denied it, even though he'd listed Sarah Palin, The Tea Party, and "Getting rid of Obama" on his interests page). So I wrote him a long and (I thought) cordial email describing my life since high school. Never heard from him again.
posted by octobersurprise at 1:26 PM on October 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


Folks who claim to get useful pushback on their beliefs from FB friends - who on earth are you friends with? All of my conservative friends' FB updates are variation on the theme of black people are lazy, women are sluts, and liberals are godless commies.
posted by downing street memo at 1:32 PM on October 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Folks who claim to get useful pushback on their beliefs from FB friends - who on earth are you friends with? All of my conservative friends' FB updates are variation on the theme of black people are lazy, women are sluts, and liberals are godless commies.

Why are you friends with so many bigoted morons? That's an easy thing to fix..
posted by FatherDagon at 1:37 PM on October 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


You'd think...

This sort of thing never almost never seems to happen on Twitter, it's a special Facebook thing.
posted by Artw at 1:42 PM on October 3, 2012


Why are you friends with so many bigoted morons? That's an easy thing to fix..

They're family. And bigoted moronism is a substantial part of lived conservatism (versus the nice, neat, theoretical kind)
posted by downing street memo at 1:49 PM on October 3, 2012 [5 favorites]


Well family, you can just block, it's easier for everyone. But yeah, there are better conservatives out there - people who are just tragically misinformed on how economic policy works, rather than open hatemongers. I know plenty, and spar on the regular in both FB and real life.
posted by FatherDagon at 2:11 PM on October 3, 2012


and spar on the regular in both FB and real life.

Has the sparring had any effect? (in terms of changed minds I mean. If you just find it entertaining then that's fine of course)
posted by ook at 2:14 PM on October 3, 2012


And the vast majority of people have less than the average number of hands.

By which, of course, I meant *greater* than the average number of hands. I'll see myself out now.

posted by Slothrup at 2:26 PM on October 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


A lot of posters in this thread hold onto this theoretical fantasy of Debate, this grand exchange of ideas where people can civilly lay out their positions, be exposed to the positions of others, and all can come away enlightened after a thorough examination.

It's complete bullshit, and it's why political discussion on Facebook is ridiculous, and is pretty much at the heart of most Internet bullshit in general.

But yeah, there are better conservatives out there - people who are just tragically misinformed on how economic policy works, rather than open hatemongers. I know plenty, and spar on the regular in both FB and real life.

This is the problem. As ook asks, what good does this do? Someone up thread said, "I thought the future of our planet was worth discussing." Maybe, but Facebook political discussions aren't doing anything to further that.

It's not even about the "level of discourse". I'm guessing the sparring partners mentioned earlier who are tragically misinformed re: economics are of the libertarian sort who are capable of extremely intelligent, intricate argument. But discussion does nothing with them, or with you. People operating at high levels of discussion already have their ideas carefully plotted out, defenses and responses drawn up, and will never change. There will just be endless intellectual discussion going nowhere.

On the other end, a poster above said "politics is also of course about moral and ethical issues." This is even less conducive to productive discussion. If someone is just arguing from the gut that something is just wrong, damnit, what can you do? Tossing out facts and well-reasoned arguments won't help. Scream at them about your own gut feelings?

So these arguments are either pure intellectual masturbation so you can have the satisfaction of constructing a grand argument, or entertainment if you enjoy arguing for arguing's sake.

This idea of the Platonic Debate just needs to go. It's a nice ideal, but it's not how people actually operate. And because it's not how people actually operate, by clinging to it, you can actually become less effective for your cause.
posted by Sangermaine at 2:30 PM on October 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


Honestly I don't mind the political posts as much as all the animal welfare posts of pit bulls that are up for adoption etc. People tend to go way overboard and clog up my feed.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 2:30 PM on October 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Under what circumstance are you suddenly discovering, "Hey, it turns out that Aunt Irene is a total piece of shit!"

We're not going to talk about that. Not until the new floor in the basement has cured.




And the vast majority of people have less than the average number of hands.

Do you have a cite for that? Because I'd bet money that there are a lot more people who have one or less than there are people who have three or more.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 2:32 PM on October 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Okay, I have to ask. Are you just accepting friend requests from random strangers, or what?

I have a role in a hobby as a minorly-notable Somebody. I have some facebook friends from that hobby, which, being old cars, is dominated by old white males and their typical conservative baggage (though happily there are a few pinkos like me, too). So when one of them posts something like "eating at chik-a-fil, thank god I don't have to worry about being hit on by a guy" I just unfriend them.

Word must have gotten 'round, though, as I get nowhere near as many friend requests as I used to.
posted by maxwelton at 2:42 PM on October 3, 2012


By which, of course, I meant *greater* than the average number of hands. I'll see myself out now.
posted by Slothrup


I never argue politics anywhere without a 5 minute edit window.
posted by RobotHero at 2:45 PM on October 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is what I wrote on my own personal Facebook profile (i.e., the one that's only accessible to people I know and like in the real world, not the fan page):
The closer we get to the election the more I am reminded just how incredibly awful Facebook is for communicating complex and in-depth political thought, and yet how perfect it is for reducing the political thoughts one has to the level of hollering for one's favorite sports teams.

I would never tell anyone not to express a political opinion, here or elsewhere; I might ask you, however, to consider whether the opinion you're expressing here is functionality equivalent to waving a pom-pom, and how much pom-pom waving is actually necessary for you to do, or for me to see.

I made a decision when I made this personal account to keep it politics free, because I find Facebook woefully inadequate as a vehicle for either deep thought or useful discussion, and besides I have a blog for that stuff. I also avoid getting into political discussions here for the same reason. It makes my time on Facebook much less stressful.

This is a personal choice, and I neither expect or desire for anyone to use Facebook just like I do, unless they have come to the same conclusions as I have. That said, if the large majority of political pom-pom waving disappeared from my Facebook thread tomorrow, replaced by pictures of friends, updates on their lives, and witty comments about everything but politics, well, let's just say I would not be upset in the slightest.
I recognize that I am different from many people in that I do have a separate (and reasonably well-visited) personal blog, on which I can blather about politics to my heart's content, and that my personal level of notoriety on Teh Intarweebs gives my thoughts a fair amount of travel, so that Facebook doesn't have to be the place I talk politics. This is why I don't really moan about the people in my FB friends list who do post about politics.

But I also don't generally bother reading those posts, either -- I scan right by them to get at the cat and kid pictures. Because personally that is what I want out of Facebook.
posted by jscalzi at 2:47 PM on October 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Folks who claim to get useful pushback on their beliefs from FB friends - who on earth are you friends with?

Conservative Christian philosophers and theologians; moderate technocrat philosophers, theologians, and technology people; radical leftist philosophers and theologians.

I have defended my heterosexual marriage on FB from arguments that getting married as a heterosexual in our time is morally equivalent to a white person eating at a whites only restaurant in the 1950s.

I have argued that "We think those benefits are immoral" does not excuse any organization from offering certain types of federally mandated health benefits to its employees.

I have attempted to answer the question, "In the absence of a major party candidate that I believe in, why SHOULDN'T I vote for the libertarian in 2012"

Just off the top of my head in the last few months. I think that the visible nature of FB threads encourages civility and also raises the stakes: it hardly matters if I convince my friend Steve that he shouldn't vote for Gary Johnson when its just the two of us in a bar. On FB, hundreds of people might be convinced by those arguments.
posted by Kwine at 3:00 PM on October 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'm actually a big fan of using Facebook to debate politics.

1) If you talk to your closest friends, chances are, you tend to agree with each other politically. Debating politics with your close friends is thus an echo chamber.

2) A country full of people debating politics with only their close friends results in a landscape of echo chambers, where intense opinions become calcified into truths, and everyone's political opinions just continue to radicalize.

3) Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, and other social media allow you to speak to people who are outside your normal spatial circle, so, by default, people who are not your closest friends. Thus increasing your exposure to other ideas, etc. Think of the way in which /r/atheism has such a strong following on Reddit, catering mostly to people who have a hard time being atheist in their (relatively) non-atheist-tolerating physical/social surroundings. Similarly, social networks can create a diversity of political discourses for people in physical/social surroundings where it doesn't exist.

TL;DR: if you can find gay acceptance and atheist acceptance through online communities, you can also make political diversity and a healthy exchange of ideas through online communities.
posted by suedehead at 3:02 PM on October 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


Plus, I think of debating Facebook as a kind of micro-activism, and like Kwine said, it raises the stakes. If I convince my conservative fear-mongering tea-party-ish Facebook journalist friend to focus on facts rather than opinions, etc. etc., then someone might read my comments on his wall and be convinced. If I agree with my liberal friends about the benefits of universal healthcare, then we're just agreeing with each other in an echo chamber.
posted by suedehead at 3:05 PM on October 3, 2012


Has the sparring had any effect? (in terms of changed minds I mean. If you just find it entertaining then that's fine of course)

Oh absolutely - it's usually a case of one person operating inside a general echo chamber, and not hearing the details of opposing arguments / facts (or even being aware they exist). People who supported flax rate taxation because they hadn't considered the math of financial burden; libertarians who thought that total 'states rights' policies would lead to an increase in personal liberty rather than the most regressive states immediately rolling back the personal rights gained in the last 50 years (and why large portions of the populace couldn't just leave if they didn't like it); folks who thought 'the science wasn't in yet' on climate change due to a small group of oil-financed agitprop producers, rather than looking at the actual scientific community. There are significant numbers of people who believe right-wing rhetoric simply because they don't know any better, and are doing what their majority peer group does. Hell, I got my own Mom to recognize the poisonous theocracy of the right wing, and switch political parties in response to some of the truly horrid things that came from the Bush admin... and she's a church secretary.
posted by FatherDagon at 3:58 PM on October 3, 2012 [4 favorites]


For me it comes down to my Facebook account and posting things that I find interesting. My friends (and by that I mean actual honest to goodness friends) range from rapid on the right to borderline communist. So I know I piss all of them off at some time or another - but they are free to block or delete me. Just as there have been times when they have made me so mad I steamed from the ears. But I also believe that a complete agreement of political ideology is not a prerequisite for being my friend.
posted by jason says at 5:22 PM on October 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


This is why we have "LISTS" on Facebook. They work really, really well. I don't want my neighbors reading what my best friend from 7th grade puts on my wall. Similarly, I don't want my coworkers to see jack shit about me except I'm still alive. I have lists in place and except for the occasional thing that slips out on the stalker feed, I have things locked down about as well as Facebook will let you lock them down. That being said, if I offend the occasional elementary school mom/neighbor/crackpot family member, it's not so bad.

I learned early on that social media isn't the place to try and change anyone's mind about anything. People just divide up into their camps and delete friendships with those of the opposing camp and no real dialogue every really happens, save for rare instances.
posted by PuppyCat at 6:05 PM on October 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


On the other end, a poster above said "politics is also of course about moral and ethical issues." This is even less conducive to productive discussion. If someone is just arguing from the gut that something is just wrong, damnit, what can you do? Tossing out facts and well-reasoned arguments won't help. Scream at them about your own gut feelings?

Well for one thing equating a moral judgement with a gut feeling is sort of a leap. (There is indeed a school of thought saying that moral judgements are purely emotional exclamations without any truth value, but it is not universally accepted.)

More concretely, I think queer rights is a pretty good recent example of what I'm talking about. Merely coming out is a political act: it forces other people to confront the fact that when they are talking about queer people, they are not talking about abstract, probably-geographically-remote deviants, but people they know and like or even love. So mere visibility, even without "productive discussion" or a sophisticated political argument justifying it, can be a powerful agent of change. Obviously, you won't convince everybody this way - but queer rights has made an unbelievable amount of progress over the last 15 years, and some of that is from little acts, like coming out, that become much more powerful in the aggregate. Plus, as FatherDagon and others have mentioned, Facebook is public and other people are watching.
posted by en forme de poire at 6:30 PM on October 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


I am Facebook friends with a number of people whose political beliefs I find reprehensible because we connect over other topics. If someone is posting really gross stuff and I cannot deal with it anymore, I hide them, and occasionally check their page to see what's up. The other crap I ignore, because I've learned 95% of the time most people are interested in honest debate, their status update is just a knee-jerk meme posting they thought was funny or relevant and will forget in ten minutes.

If I were to outright cut these people out from my life though, I would lose a lot from the areas where we do connect and do relate. I don't think it's necessary to draw lines that strictly.
posted by schroedinger at 6:35 PM on October 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


Despite being in an elected office, and working for various local campaigns, I post about politics only very rarely on facebook, and not really about straightforward "Yay Democrats/Boo Republicans!" I try to post about smaller issues and ones that have particular meaning to me, and I try to do it pretty rarely. Because, yeah, posting politics on facebook alienates a lot of people and doesn't really change anybody's mind.

Today I posted an article where some corporate-type educational reformers were making a big deal about the latest awesome thing that would save education. I commented that this latest awesome thing was something that teachers had been incorporating into their classrooms for over a decade and was widespread within educational circles, but that because corporate educational reformers don't actually know much about education, they'd reinvent the wheel and put a lot of money into doing it, money that could otherwise go into classroom with teachers ALREADY using this best practice. And, in fact, several of my conservative friends were like, "Huh, good point," and several of my non-political friends were like, "I didn't know this was happening, that is annoying." (And like all of my teacher friends were like "PREACH!")

I'm not a big fan of reading other people's generalized politics posts either; I'm really there for the baby pictures. I like reading smaller, local, specific political posts. Whatever's the "most read" on Fox News or The Atlantic today doesn't really need to be reposted on FB with all the vitriol the poster can muster. Every now and then, though, I do get suckered into arguing about politics on someone else's post. I always feel dirty afterwards.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:48 PM on October 3, 2012


most recently with a Todd Aklin fan who thought the guy had been taken out of context and who I was able to provide with some statistics about abortion that he hadn't known, and who was able to help me understand how a reasonable and generally nice person could vote for somebody like Akin.

Speaking of Todd: Akin's Campaign Stands By Claim Of Abortions On Women Who "Are Not Actually Pregnant"
posted by homunculus at 10:16 PM on October 3, 2012


I'm from Canada, and very few of my Canadian Facebook friends post about politics. I have a lot of FB friends from the States, and without exception they all post about politics.

Some of my friends identify as Democrats, while a few identify as Republicans and as libertarians. From my perspective as an outsider, American politics and FB posts about American politics (but no Tea Partiers and few OWSers, thank god) are quite boring (except for my libertarian friends, who are generally critical of both parties and both candidates).

I would mute their posts, but generally we share a Japan connection of some kind, so there is common and non-political ground to be found there.

My Japanese connections are kind of a cross between Canadians and Americans - there are some Japanese folk who never ever mention politics (like my Canadian connections) and others who post some of the craziest, partisan stuff possible, usually about Fukushima, but also about bases and American foreign policy (kind of like Americans on Facebook).
posted by KokuRyu at 12:00 AM on October 4, 2012


I loved facebook when it was a great filter for political news, opinion and gossip, plus liveblogging of debates, rallies, conferences and the like. Now it is just memes and stuff my grandmother would forward in her chain emails, plus narcissism. Seriously why do I need a dozen photos of your child daily? #politicschatforthewin
posted by By The Grace of God at 2:59 AM on October 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Politics on FB are good, as are food pics. Probably my libertarian misogynist colleague doesn't know his crazy views are the main reason I never invite him in on projects. But I'm glad I know about it. Maybe my aunt unfriended me because of my dinners, maybe because I LOL'ed at some far out hippie new age thing she posted. Its all OK.
I did unfriend a guy who was rabidly racist. He made me feel sick.
Joking aside, I'm friends with politicians on both sides, and its really cool when they discuss issues I post about.
posted by mumimor at 3:25 AM on October 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


A while ago, my mum seemed to have joined the Australian equivalent of the Tea Party, and would regurgitate right-wing talking points from The Australian/Alan Jones/Andrew Bolt/whoever about how Julia Gillard is wrecking the country and the Greens are Communist "watermelons" and such. I had to set up a filter for anything relating to Australian politics so that posts about issues wouldn't end up getting buried under her tirades.
posted by acb at 4:27 AM on October 4, 2012


Speaking of Todd: Akin's Campaign Stands By Claim Of Abortions On Women Who "Are Not Actually Pregnant"

Well, if the purpose of abortion is to ritually pay obeisance to the Dark Lord Satan, the god of all liberals, it makes perfect sense.
posted by acb at 4:29 AM on October 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Amongst people I know, facebook tends to be used for cat/baby/food pictures and life updates, and twitter for politics. Which is odd, because twitter is a terrible medium for debating complex issues - the length limits encourage oversimplification and following conversations between groups of people is difficult. I suspect this is because people tend to have figures they self-censor around in their facebook friends list (work colleagues, family members) and can't be bothered to limit who they post to. Because fewer people are on twitter, it's easier to casually post political stuff without worrying that you're endangering your job or cordiality at the next family barbecue.
posted by gnimmel at 4:50 AM on October 4, 2012


If we start compartmentalizing and excising certain parts of who we are and how we define ourselves like this just to avoid conflict, where does that process end, exactly? Should I avoid saying I liked the movie "Twelve Monkeys" just because there are some people too immature and petty to accept and cope with the social reality that there are people in the world (never mind their own social circles!) whose opinions/tastes/beliefs differ from theirs to some greater or lesser degree?

I'm posting too late in the game for many people to get around to reading this, but basically, it ends with people like me. I'm intensely cagey about using social media to the point that I have a completely locked down FB profile that only exists so that people can invite me to stuff. Hell, I haven't even used Twitter in almost a year. I even wrote an AskMe post about how to feel comfortable being something other than completely anodyne on Twitter.

I realized pretty early on that even people who I thought to be pretty open-minded can get...weird when they realize that someone in their company is more different than they expect. At some point I started becoming more politically aware and I realized that sometimes, my gender, race, and socioeconomic status play a role in how I experience the world. The next realization I had is that it was very dangerous to ever express anything that hinted at that reality, lest some of my "friends" realized that I'm not a clone of them despite being, for the most part, a pretty pedestrian urban liberal type in a crown of pretty pedestrian urban liberal types. I'm going to approach things from a different perspective than some people, so even if we're likely to come to the same conclusion there's a good possibility that they'll tune me out before they even realize that we're on the same page. I often feel like there's too much risk in alienating people if I own who I am, what I care about, and what I believe publicly. I'm also not sure that anyone's listening and agreeing and willing to engage me in a conversation the same way that they do for other people, even though I'm saying some of the same things - this makes me think that there's no real payoff to using social media to strengthen one's feeling of community, at least for me. Hell, I honestly don't know how everyone else puts their views out there with such apparent ease - is it privilege that makes it possible? Self-confidence? Living in an echo chamber?

So now I don't post anything, and I haven't for years. Not opinions, not pet photos, not status updates, nothing. It's easier to have people think I'm a completely boring do-nothing-know-nothing-reflect-on-nothing type if how I think about the world can endanger any sense of affinity that could be there.
posted by thisjax at 8:22 AM on October 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


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