Facebook and Political Discussion – Part 1

the-scream-munchThe last place on earth that a political discussion should occur is on Facebook.

During the last year, I have watched what looks like a slow motion car crash as various people take to the Internet to vent their opinions about this candidate or that candidate.  Seldom is there any courtesy or nobility in the conversation.  It, most often, has a “don’t you get it, stupid” kind of air to it.

Facebook political discussions feel like being flipped-off as I drive down the 99.  It’s “safe” to say whatever you want to say on Facebook, because you can’t see the other person’s eyes.  Eyes change everything in political discussion.  Eyes let you know how your words are affecting the other person – perhaps painfully.  Eyes make apparent the sincerity of the other’s conviction about a particular person or idea.  Eyes put the conversation in a human perspective.

Facebook is good for sharing pictures of your birthday party or vacation in Rome.  Facebook is good for sending messages back and forth to good friends.  But Facebook is the worst place on earth to have political discussion, because it isn’t “discussion.”  Most of the time it is ALL CAPS, screaming, pontificating, and spewing, but it’s not discussion.

I recently bumped into an acquaintance that I had not seen for three or four years.  As we stood in line at the store we briefly caught up on news.  Talk inevitably turned to the election.   I have great regard for this person because of her intellect, educational attainment, and career of public service.  I expected her political opinions to be 180 degrees from what she expressed.

It highlighted for me how varied and ambiguous the political discussion is, and though the discussion did not change my mind, it did make me aware of how dangerous it is to make assumptions about a person’s intellect on the basis of political opinion.  There are idiots on both sides of the discussion as well as incredibly bright people.

There are, I believe, five ideas that should guide the temptation to FB political discussion.

  1. Facebook political discussion seldom, if ever, changes opinions.  They function more like personal therapy.  “Maybe if I can scream and shout for a while, I will feel better.”  Most FB visitors don’t want to hear you scream, and they may even join you in the screaming.
  2. Facebook political discussions are really only monologue.  There is no give and take.  No consideration that another person might have a legitimate point of view.  No respect.
  3. Facebook political discussions love to throw around articles like scientific research.  Most of what is shared is contrived or skewed to a particular point of view.  There’s a famous picture of one candidate’s parents wearing Ku Klux Klan uniforms.  The picture was photoshopped and not real, yet it is presented as real.  That is dishonest.
  4. Facebook political discussion may cause you to lose your influence as a credible person, or worse, friendships.  Political debate is like a sink hole that, once it begins collapsing, sucks you into relationship-destroying diatribe.  No political debate is worth that. 
  5. People who volunteer, participate, and contribute to public welfare do not usually show up in Facebook discussions of the negative sort.  They know, better than most, that there are more points of view than their own.  They also know the fragile nature of human relationships and work to build rather than tear them down.

The best way to influence public behavior is to be involved, make a contribution to the well-being of the place where you live, and vote.  Don’t let Facebook be the place for your political involvement.  It won’t turn out well.