The Politics of Facebook Friendships

So this is a post I’ve been thinking about for sometime and I’ve re-written it a dozen or more times because it sort of comes out as a smug “rules for friends” on Facebook and that’s not what I want to write. It’s my way of thinking about friends on Facebook and it doesn’t have to be anyone else’s. The great thing about Facebook is that you get to make it what you want in terms of socializing or promoting or a business or being accessible. In that sense everyone should have a plan that works for them.

Over the years, I’ve realized that there are certain things I don’t want to see on my timeline. The recent comments that many people were making about asking those who supported Donald Trump to unfriend them troubled me. First, there was the question of whether I only wanted to be friends with people who thought like me. And honestly, no. Because some of the best friends I have are really different from me. Diversity is a great thing.

On the other hand, Trump’s comments are really, really hateful and scary. In fact, sadly, the only thing Dick Cheney and I agree on is that Trump would make a horrible president. Do I want to be friends with people who would support someone who wants to take the United States down the same road as Germany went down in World War II? Or even that the US went down in WWII by imprisoning American citizens in internment camps because they happened to look like the people who attacked us? When does unfriending someone limit my exposure to other ideas and when is it taking a moral stand?

I don’t know what’s going on in anyone’s head. I can read what they post on Facebook. And I realized that this is less about controlling them but controlling what I am connected to and exposed to.

I don’t want to see pictures of animal abuse. However, I understand why some people share those things. I understand they are able to wade into a really horrible situation and try and make sense of it in a way I cannot any longer. I don’t want to see that. Unfortunately I do know it happens and I respect and applaud the people willing to help. I’ll stay friends with them but I’ll unfollow the pages that they share that show pictures like that. If I have to, I’ll unfollow them but remain connected to them in the background because their heart is in the right place.

I don’t want to see images and status updates that denigrate, dehumanize, or demonize a person or groups of people. I realize that sharing many articles, some of which are great articles if you can get beyond the headline, means that sometimes we share hate. If the intention of the sharer is about raising awareness of a horrible issue, that’s something I’m okay with in my feed. Issues come up. I believe in personal growth and I’m willing to be challenged on some ways of thinking.

If the article is just tearing down a person or group of people, I’m not interested. In fact, if someone that I’m friends with posts articles that mostly do this, they will probably be unfriended. I might just hide them from my timeline, but if I go back and everything continues to remain negative and hate-filled, I’ll unfriend.

Here’s the thing. I don’t want to participate in denigrating or dehumanizing anyone. I’m not perfect. I’ll probably fail in that as a one hundred percent rule, but I want to minimize that. I want to limit my exposure to people spreading hatred and I think it’s a far better use of the space I have for hatred to learn about ways of stopping it.

As for friends in the background, there’s a point at which I don’t even want any ties and connections to that sort of hatred even if it doesn’t show up in my newsfeed. It’s like having friends that gossip behind your back. I don’t want that.

So, do I stay friends with people who support Donald Trump? What if they rarely post anything political?

As I said, my standards on Facebook are about diversity, humanity and being challenged. If they aren’t posting things that are hateful and as one supporter told me, “I don’t agree with everything he says,” when challenged about his stance on Muslims, I’m currently not unfriending them.

It wouldn’t change their political stance. I mean, when was the last time someone rethought their political stance because a near stranger unfriended them on Facebook? If anything, it would consolidate their position of “rightness” and my position of “wrongness” because I just wasn’t willing to hear the truth.

Worse, it would make me exactly like Donald Trump and in that I would be a hypocrite. I wouldn’t be making Muslims and Hispanics “Other”.  Instead I would be demonizing and making his supporters “Other.” I would be dividing the world every bit as much as Mr. Trump does.

I don’t want to be a divider. We have enough dividers in our world today.

I want to do something different. I want to unite people. I want to understand people. I want a world where there is so much love there’s no room for people to think like Mr. Trump. My stance won’t create that world, but maybe, just maybe I can offer enough love and peace in my little corner of it that we’ll be a tiny bit closer. At the very least, maybe there’ll be less divisiveness in my own spirit which creates a more peaceful world for me and those closest to me.

It doesn’t mean I accept Trump. As I said, if you fill my world with hate, I’ll unfriend you, and if you’re a politician I’ll work very hard to make sure you don’t have the power to spread that hatred. I’ll do that by voting, by marching, by writing letters to other powerful people, by sharing messages about how we are better people than he believes, how humanity is better than he believes.

I don’t understand how people that I’ve seen care for the sick, speak up for the voiceless, and offer support and generosity to people they’ve never met in person can support a man who spews so much hatred. I’ll never understand it and I hope it ends. But maybe, I can be that voice of their “Other” and let them see that the “Other” is not so scary that it has to be dehumanized to face. Or not. But at least I’ll be able to face my “Other” and do that. And at the end of the day, the only thing we can do is face what we can face.

I said it above. I’m “currently” not unfriending them. If this exercise becomes overwhelming or too harsh, I’m offering myself a way out. But for now, I’m not participating in the great divide.

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Bonnie Koenig has been a licensed acupuncturist since 1999. She is passionate about helping people find real healing and real health. In the process she keeps asking about our attitudes towards sickness and health. Only by being clear on what sickness is, can we ever find health.

2 thoughts on “The Politics of Facebook Friendships”

  1. Powerfully said. I agree that managing my friends or what is visible on my Facebook timeline is about what I want to be exposed to (or don’t) every time I turn on my computer. I try to pare down the negativity that comes across my Facebook timeline if for nothing else than the fact that I’m trying to live a positive life and share positivity with others; negativity from all quarters is too hard to handle sometimes, especially in the morning when I’m trying to start my day out right. I also agree that diversity is important and powerful, and that eliminating everyone who disagrees with me is never a great goal; it’s more about the delivery of someone’s disagreement or stance. Disagreements can be discussed in non-hateful ways, and that is fine. But too much ranting and hate – that I just can’t allow on my timeline, in order to remain sane. I’m glad you decided to post this article after all!

  2. Hi Bonnie,

    Long time since my cat blogging days with Cat Crossings (if you remember, maybe, LOL).

    So much has changed, especially the past few years, frankly, the political polarization that we’ve seen has gotten way out-of-hand. Though I personally trend conservative in my personal politics, I generally draw the line at saying we need to agree on everything, on every issue. I do believe one needs to be fair in their thoughts and practices – if one doesn’t, you’ll be angry all the time. And, that gets to be very old, very fast. A few of my very best friends hold different political views from my own. My friendships with them I value more than politics – they understand that. So, pretty much, we don’t discuss politics. I’ve always thought the best political deal was one neither side likes, and is generally the one that best embodies the “American value”.

    Regarding Trump, I’d rather prefer he leave political scene forever. No more running for president, no more commentary, etc. It maybe wishful thinking on my part that he’ll fade away. If he wants to contribute, let him contribute in the arena of personal wealth – things that work. Most of us don’t have a gazillion of dollars like him. I prefer the old fashioned way of having some dollars salted away.

    Nice, thoughtful write-up.

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