Facebook and Politics: The Loss of Manners in a New Age
by Barbara_Donnelly_Lane
August 03, 2012 09:03 AM | 3750 views | 3 3 comments | 118 118 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink
Facebook is an interesting forum for gauging how people really feel about how politics should mix with polite conversation.  In fact, I am often amazed by the information people disseminate through social networking with nary a thought to whether or not that information is accurate, skewed, or downright offensive to others.

The most interesting thing is that unlike the strangers who share opinions at the end of blog articles, if you can read a Facebook post, you must know the poster.  You went to high school or college or summer camp together, so you probably don’t feel it’s unreasonable to expect these “friends” to avoid crudely spitting on your views.  

Yet people don’t seem to mind doing just this in the Facebook forum, as if Emily Post never owned a laptop so can’t weigh in on manners in the New Age.  

Now I must admit that I have occasionally tried to engage with people who start political threads of the incendiary nature because I figure if a person posts an image labeled “Too Informed to Vote Republican” or “Too Informed to Vote Democrat” on a fairly public website, that person is “informed” enough to expound on his or her views.  Certainly, if challenged, one should have enough intellectual capital to justify and defend a published point.   Like a campaign sign staked in a front yard, posts declare positions, and positions are worthy of discussion, right?  

I am, apparently, entirely too optimistic for cyberspace.  

In truth, people who ignite bombs on the Internet with the push of a “share” button are generally not interested in the ideas of others, and they haven’t often gone through the bother of analyzing their own, oft-sophomoric demagoguery.  

Ironically, it’s those “friends” who attack political opponents with the most vicious abandon, who shoot off bullets from their keyboards as fast as their semi-automatic fingers can fire, who almost always feel as if they’re somehow more open-minded than those they disparage.

It’s a most curious state of affairs.  

Sometimes it leaves me pining for the world as it used to be when people avoided certain topics at cocktail parties for the sake of communal harmony unless they were really capable of having civil exchanges.

Of course we used to still talk about hot button topics at such social gatherings, but we also tried to remember our manners. We either managed to debate, explore ideas, make each other think, and even agree to disagree without real rancor, or we kept silent.  We certainly didn’t make broad statements about any friend’s lack of morality based solely on a person’s politics, which, I suggest, is about as fair as racial profiling or cultural stereotyping, neither of which would be deemed okay to do on the Internet.  (Just ask that Greek Olympian about the fallout from her recent Tweet!)  

At the absolute least, in those innocent days when people interacted face-to-face, it was unacceptable to walk up to a fellow partygoer and start shouting about how ignorant and mean he must be to come from a certain political persuasion while spewing little flecks of spittle onto his cheeks.

Why has this become okay to do electronically?     

Keep in mind these observations are not meant to admonish or stifle vigorous and honest debate in any place, including Facebook, where people wish to bandy about passionate opinions.  In truth, in a free society, open discourse is essential for an informed and engaged electorate.   I’ve “met” people of different political persuasions who have made valid points on a “friend’s” thread, and I value those interactions because I think they bridge divides between Americans, which makes our country stronger.

But I would caution us all to consider how we comport ourselves in every forum when we’re talking about sensitive topics.   

Just because one’s “speaking” from the safe confines of his or her basement, it’s not okay to belittle or bully like an intolerant blowhard when someone else has a different perspective.

Worse than trolls who at least realize what they’re doing, such “friends” come across as self-righteous morons, and I want to engage with them about as much as I wanted to talk to the guy who got sloppy drunk and started swinging his fists at yesteryear’s cocktail parties.

Of course, I suppose an easy solution is to “unfriend” those posting beyond the bounds of good taste, but I like having this window into the minds of others.  It helps me know who to exclude when I send out invitations to people I’d like to have swing by for a chat in my real house.
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Chris Sanchez
August 05, 2012
Barbara: very nice article! The kinder, gentler days of yesteryear are but a memory. In their place we find a populous who is quite comfortable lobbing grenades at people anonymously like it is some sort of Olympic sport. But such behavior begs the question: why?

Why is it okay to behave in a way that a mere twenty years ago would lead to one being an outcast? It is the "everyone kid gets a trophy for participating" approach to raising children so prevalent today? Something else? In our nation the public discourse has fallen to such lows that it is difficult to imagine a positive change. Oh how I pray for that though!
Bill Millette
August 04, 2012

I started using Facebook at family request about two years ago. I found it helped in rekindling family ties, friendship ties. Other than a joke about a politician, it was mostly family talk.

That changed as you so well explained. I started getting posts for or against a politician, and other political issues. While I am quite interested in the political scene, I feel I get plenty in other media.

Now I check Facebook every other day and only respond to personal issues. I actually "unfriended" a niece who was persistent in addressing political issues.

I am quite active on about four sites that deal with political and economic issues. I had hoped that Facebook would be warm and cozy and nonpolitical.

A very nice article, B D L.

PS I wondered how some people have 400-500 friends and can maintain communication.
Oliver G. Halle
August 03, 2012
Barbara, your masterful writing skills say it so well. I couldn't agree more with you about what has happened to civility in the cyber world. I would only add that those who feel comfortable making outrageous comments behind the mask of anonymity have added immeasurably to the trend you describe. They must be very insecure about their credibility if readers knew who they were, perhaps their lack of accomplishments, or being a lifelong failure. I assume that it is their way of striking back at everyone else for being "victims."

Great column!
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