Friends in the age of social media

On this, the observed day of Friendship Day (officially July 30th since 2011), I have an excuse to vent/pontificate a bit about the nature of friendship and how social media not only taxes friendship, but also reduces its meaning.

Back in my younger days – when ‘friendship day’ was a Hallmark holiday with no other recognition, we had friends, we had acquantainces, we had coworkers. Sometimes, for many reasons, those relationships shifted and changed over time – close friends became more distant, acquaintances became partners, unbreakable friendships shattered and new ones replaced them. Most of us knew, understood, and respected our differences (or when we didn’t actually respect them, we knew to choose our battles). Most of us, too, were raised with certain social boundaries – especially with acquaintances – don’t discuss anything more controversial than the weather. So mostly we didn’t – and maybe sometimes opportunities to understand another point of view better was lost, but mostly, especially for women, it kept the peace. I should note that I’m not only not waxing nostalgic here – I think that these lost opportunities should not have been needed to be. I think there are always ways to respectfully discuss our differences to try to understand. Not to try to change opinion. Just to understand. And I should also offer the disclaimer that I suck at social convention – but fortunately for all concerned my introversion kept me from saying too much to people I didn’t know well too often.

Now, though, friend is not only a noun relating to someone with whom you have a bond or feel affection for, but refers,too, to a member of your social networking circle, and the word has also become a verb related to the act of connecting to someone in social networking. It is the broader application of the word that gives me pause.

For most of my life, I’ve kept my personal life separated from my work life  – there were exceptions, especially as a young adult. For the most part, though, I’ve shared little personal information or views with most people; and I can honestly say that I’ve never ended a friendship over differences in politics, religion, lifestyle, but I have over issues of honesty and trust. And therein lies my social networking dilemma.

We all use social networking differently. I’m not big on personal sharing, so Facebook for me is far more a combination of interesting information shares, humor, inspiration, politics, but very little personal stuff bleeds through – except, perhaps, for my blogging which I also do share on my personal Facebook. Twitter I pretty much only use fro blogging and to pick up quick news headlines. Google+ is something I don’t understand, so I only use it for blogging purposes.

With that baseline established, I can get back to my dilemma. I sincerely live by the concept that ‘you are entitled to your own opinion (or belief), but not to your own facts’. I understand that ‘facts’ can sometimes, although perhaps less often that some may think, be open to interpretation. And sometimes, especially in the realm of scientific discovery, something thought to have been fact can change with new information. That’s all okay. It’s actually a good thing. And I also don’t get overly rigid in holding onto my own opinions – I can, and do, change my mind based on new information. My current quandry is that not everyone thinks as I do about truth. Anyone that knows me – or has been reading this blog – knows that I am a critical thinker by nature. I live by the rules of logic. Somehow this is woven into the very core of how my brain functions. I research pretty nearly everything that interests or worries me – and I don’t limit my sources. This sometimes puts me at odds with my friends/”friends”‘ thinking on some issues, but that’s okay, too. Dialogue is good and the world would be awfully dull if we all agreed about everything all of the time. The problem comes in when I give in to my natural tendency, when I encounter something that isn’t true – be it a misattribution or a debunked urban myth, to call it out. Especially on social networking, where things spread like wildfire, never retract themselves, and prove Lenin’s infamous “a lie repeated often enough becomes the truth” axiom. For indeed, now more than ever, this is true. We are in an age when information travels at lightening speeds, and corrections get lost in the uproar. But I try. Perhaps I’m wrong. Sometimes I just don’t know. Perhaps I’m just being a pain-in-the-as-know-it’s-all.

To be fair, many of my friends/”friends” do take the more inflammatory posts down once they realize that they aren’t true (and in some cases have been repeated periodically for years). But some have said that regardless they though the meme was funny, or the quote too good not to share even if it wasn’t real. I’ve been argued with about the veracity of a quote even if the attribution is incorrect. I’ve been told, more than once, that I lack of sense of humor (this might be true in certain instances), and most alarmingly, that the poster didn’t care if what they were posting was true or not since a) some percentage of news is untrue, anyway, and/or b) since whoever the story was about (& this crosses ideologies) is generally bad, it mattered little that this particular story was proven false, and/or c) both parties/all religions/whatever all do the same thing, anyway. None of these rationales make sense to me, and, although my circle of social networking friends is larger than the circle I would normally have been sharing “controversial” topics with in an earlier era, these are all family, friends, coworkers, or others that I’ve forged a relatively comfortable relationship with & that I respect. But it’s hard for me to respect people that don’t place the same premium on truth that I do. But for a variety of reasons, I will not ‘unfriend’ them – much like with classically defined friends, it would take something quite egregious for that to happen, but it does make me uncomfortable. And it leaves me respecting their judgement just a bit less. And in the dark, pre-internet, ages, this would have been something that would probably have led to friendships fading away over time, but social networking makes it feel trickier. So I content myself with continuing to call out the truly inflammatory posts (since there is just too much hate out there already without fueling the fire with more misinformation), and just ignoring the rest.

Does anyone else have a magic formula for dealing with this? Does anyone else share my concerns at all? Among my friends/”friends”, I think I may be an outlier, but I find it hard to accept that this would be true. Maybe everyone else is just better at ignoring it? Maybe I am just a pedantic pain-in-the-ass.

To borrow a quote from Thomas Jefferson “I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend.” Yet, I’m not so sure about that when it comes to different sets of priorities when it comes to truth.

“People who fail to regard the truth seriously in small matters, cannot be trusted in matters that are great.

— Albert Einstein, 1955




2 thoughts on “Friends in the age of social media”

  1. It’s a difficult thing – but forgiveness is about the forgiven & not the forgiven, and in this case is the easier part since the transgression is not really against me. The issue, in the long run, is about trust. And trust is a more complicated thing – and it is not really possible to fully trust someone when they are blatantly unconcerned with the truth (& yes, I really have had someone tell me that they didn’t care that the stories they were sharing were false – someone I know has actually posted a couple of ‘disclaimer’ posts announcing that position.


  2. Your comments are heartfelt and I can understand how you might feel disappointed in those who want to ignore the facts or downplay the importance of truth if it entertains them, or respond glibly to critism. (Being corrected can feel like personal critism.) I don’t have any advice for you, but hope that you will always stand up for the facts and spread the truth. You are you, after all, and are very valuable. It might feel better, though, to just forgive -as friendship is a precious thing and everyone has fine qualities.

    Liked by 1 person

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