*** Opening disclaimer – nearly all of this post came from my July 30, 2016 post on the same topic. A couple of things were bothering me today: one relates to the known falsehoods still being shared by some friends/”friends” on social media – some of which, it now seems, were part of an orchestrated attack, by Russians, intended to influence our 2016 election (indictments were made public this afternoon); and one was a disturbing display of anger in a response to a offensive comment someone had made on a news item
The relationship to the first thing is perhaps clearer, since that was essentially the topic of the original post. The second was not behavior that I covered in the original post, but I have, in other posts, discussed our perpetual state of manufactured outrage, and the impact that it can have on people with emotional control and anger management issues.
So now 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. But before venturing into that aspect, there is the subject of what to do, or perhaps say, when a friend/”friend” turns out to be one of ‘those’ people that threaten instead of ignoring. Now, there have been other times when friends/”friends” said incredibly offensive things to other friends/”friends”, but eventually those things were worked out, hurt feelings acknowledged, and escalation avoided – or sometimes social media-only friendships were severed, but this was different in that it was a threatening knee-jerk reaction to something that was out of proportion to the trigger. And it disturbed me a great deal. It was also a fluke of timing that I saw it at all – if I’d logged in at a different time of day, I would have missed it. And then I wonder – does this happen often? with this particular friend only? are there others? And does it matter? I honestly don’t know. What does matter is that I did see it this one time because a thing once seen cannot be unseen. And that leaves the conundrum of what, if anything, to do. I don’t know that, either. But I’m both disheartened and concerned, so I’ll work it out somehow. But in the meantime, Thomas Paine had very some very wise advice for those that are quick to anger: “The greatest remedy for anger is delay.”
As far as the primary topic of friendship and social media is concerned, in the days before social media and the internet, 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 were lost, but mostly, especially for women, it kept the peace. Something we were also raised to do. I should note that I’m not only NOT waxing nostalgic here – I think that those lost opportunities should not have been necessary. I think there are always ways to respectfully discuss our differences to try to understand. Not to try to change an 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, or whatever, 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.
With that baseline established, I can get back to my dilemma. I sincerely live by the idea 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”‘s 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-ass-know-it-all. But today’s indictments bear out my concerns.
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 is likely 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, former 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