On Facebook

Today I’m launching this new special blog as a supplement to my Facebook page. I explain here. This first post is too long to be called a ‘A Quick Thought’ but everything hereafter will be quick. Nothing will exceed 2 or 3 paragraphs.

I’m back on Facebook after taking a short sabbatical to reflect and meditate.

While Facebook is great at bringing family and friends together across time and distance, it has a dark side that I needed to step away from. Discussions on Facebook can get awfully intense and frankly downright unpleasant. I won’t dredge up specific cases because they’re history. What’s important are the characteristics they hold in common since this insight can help going forward.

Before I say more I want to emphasize that I’m not referring here to any particular person, group, episode or Facebook page. This is a broad problem across Facebook, going back years.

Technology
Facebook filters, scrambles and collapses comments making coherent conversation difficult.

I’ll start with the Facebook platform itself which I believe encourages conflict. Its design and immediacy are both problems. People can post comments simultaneously which is basically everyone speaking at once. We all know how that works! Facebook also scrambles and manipulates conversations horribly:

  • It filters out some comments entirely so you’ll never see them unless you’re aware and change the filter (see image).
  • It groups and collapses comments so they’re hidden unless you click to open them all.
  • It arbitrarily segregates long conversations into different subthreads. Related comments don’t necessarily follow in sequence and may not be anywhere near each other.

The result is utter chaos. Simple brief conversations are fine, but in long and impassioned debates the discussion becomes nearly impossible to follow coherently.

The Human Factor

Technology issues aside, then we get to the human factor. When I think of “conversation,” I’m looking for sincere dialogue between people — an honest sharing of ideas, a willingness to examine our own assumptions, and an openness to understanding the other person’s perspective. I’m not saying we have to change our opinions or beliefs. We rarely will. But we can still learn something and understand each other better. I’m reminded of the close friendship between Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia. They stood at opposite ends of the judicial spectrum yet their friendship thrived in their willingness to engage each other in thoughtful and sincere discussion.

Regrettably, too many times on Facebook this kind of dialogue breaks down. Sometimes people become angry, rude or disrespectful. Sometimes they yell (ALL CAPS and !!!). Other times it’s more serious where people are locked into an “ism” or “phobia” of one kind or another — which I’m seeing across the political spectrum from right to left. It’s disheartening. Sadly, these situations bring us to an impasse where further conversation feels pointless if not impossible.

Changes

I reached a point last month where I had to step away and take a break from Facebook to think. I concluded that I want to keep communication open as much as possible in these difficult situations — the operative word being possible. I really think it’s important!

Ultimately, though, it can’t be a free-for-all. There need to be some limits. For my part, I’ve decided on these changes to keep conflict and stress in check:

  1. I will proceed cautiously in future discussions on Facebook. If I sense that folks are getting too angry or their minds are closed, I’ll pause and assess the situation. If it seems there’s no real dialogue, or people become disrespectful, or I get angry myself, I’ll back off. Hopefully we can try again another day.
  1. Since I have Facebook Friends of all persuasions whom I value, I will try as much as possible to avoid controversial posts that seem likely to offend or upset. Instead I’ve opened this new blog and will post such items here leaving just a subject tag and link back on Facebook. I call it ‘A Quick Thought’ because everything I post here in lieu of Facebook will be short & quick — never longer than 2 or 3 paragraphs max. This first post is the sole exception!

If one of my links on Facebook interests you, I hope you’ll click over. It’ll take just a moment. But if you’re not interested, no problem. Please just ignore me and scroll happily on with my blessings.

As for comments responding to this and future posts, I respectfully ask that we talk here rather than back on Facebook. I think the conversation will be far better away from the chaos and noise.

All comments are welcome. I only ask that we remain civil and respectful of one another. If you clicked over from Facebook, please comment here rather than back there.

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