When do you block Facebook ranters?
Recently I “blocked” an old childhood acquaintance from Facebook. It was a sad moment, the severing of a meaningful thread that stretched back decades. But I find myself doing this more and more often lately.
It’s not because he posted crazy, muddled stuff. In 2014, you have to have a thick skin online.
I can handle “Obama is an evil tyrant” and “Obamacare is part of the culture of death.” I can also slog through “Corporations have Borg-minded American democracy” or “Vaccines are poisoning our kids.”
I won’t deny that it’s wearying sometimes to always be starting conversations from a place of spluttering rage.
It’s exhausting when people re-post banners or cartoons or essays that are factually wrong, or years out of date, or repeatedly debunked. (I think everyone posting that stuff should be required to visit Snopes.com first.)
But I can handle even the worst nonsense, most of the time. And the truth is that I like having conversations with people who disagree with me. I grew up around a kitchen table where we argued cheerfully about everything.
Religion? Politics? It was all fair game and we learned early that disagreeing – even noisily – didn’t mean a lack of love or respect. A raucous dinner was a happy dinner.
The thing that has me shutting people off – “blocking,” in modern digital parlance – are the friends who post political or religious or cultural opinions without any desire for a response or a dialogue.
The guy I’m referencing in this case posted a cartoon suggesting that Barack Obama has moved to stifle dissent in America. The suggestion was that he was a harbinger of evil big government tyranny.
I responded at length, pointing out that Mr. Obama didn’t actually suggest anything of the sort in his speech, which was – typically for our twice-elected president – a fairly safe, middle-of-the-road bit of political blather.
I pointed out that most tyrants don’t find themselves neck-deep in a divided government. They don’t step down peacefully after two terms, after being elected twice by popular majorities.
My acquaintance deleted my post and scolded me for replying to his “humorous” Facebook message with a serious political discussion. The bit where I quoted Mr. Obama’s actual speech, in context? He deleted that, too.
This isn’t the first such moment, when someone in my digital community has spluttered over Facebook and then been shocked – shocked! – when I or someone else actually responded.
Too many of us, I think, are shouting from the rooftops, expecting to hear nothing in response but an echo of our own rage, our own fear, our own prejudices.
It shouldn’t work like that. In my view, we should all absolutely be posting opinions to Facebook. Anything to dilute the constant stream of cat photos and “Fail” videos.
But then you should expect a response. You should want your community to think out loud about the problems you’ve identified.
It’s a sign of respect when people care about your concerns and fears deeply enough to respond and engage. And you should listen with an open mind to what the world says back.
This doesn’t mean your opinions have to change, but on occasion they just might. I’ve found my world view reshaped and informed again and again by passionate arguments online.
One final confession. I try to be as open-minded as I can, and I love thinking about even the most out-there ideas.
But I’ve found myself lately reaching another cut-off point, another block-trigger, when some political ideas are so extreme, so nutty, that even in my “anything goes” notion of dialogue it’s just too crazy a starting point.
Last week, another Facebook friend posted an article suggesting that Mr. Obama is organizing a “Hitler youth”-style program designed to indoctrinate American kids into his evil, totalitarian ideology.
I started to type out a response and found myself shaking my head. I realized that it was time to say good-bye.
I love dialogue. I love the idea of my Facebook page being a kind of Speaker’s Corner. But sometimes the chasm of common sense is just too wide to shout across.
Brian Mann lives in Saranac Lake and is the Adirondack bureau chief for NCPR.