I live in the country in western New York about 5 miles from a small town. There has been some controversy over the Facebook pages for this town. It got so bad that the mayor and others set up a new Facebook page.
What seems to happen on Facebook is that people get progressively ruder and ruder. Folks who would give you the shirt off their backs turn into folks who would shoot you in the back. People who would gladly buy you a drink turn into folks who would poison your coffee. Now why is that?
As in all things, I have my theories. Not original by any means.
One idea is the fact that Facebook is largely anonymous. But that’s not really the case here. Most folks use their real names (I think). I use mine. So, anonymity cannot be the reason.
Another idea is that communication is much more than words. But Facebook, except for the lame emojis, is all words. Words. And not spoken words, but written words. Now, psychologists will tell us that 70-93% of all communication is “non-verbal”. That is, body language. Voice inflection. What a person looks like. Tone of voice. Etc. (Although that number has been challenged as too high by some researchers).
So, if that is true it would mean that the written word is only 30% of what is being communicated. The rest you have to figure out. This may be where the problem rests.
My friends know that I tend to be sarcastic (Tend?) So, when I SPEAK my tone will tell them that. Even when I write my blog or posts people who know me know that I may be ironic or intentionally dramatic. Hyperbolic. Not totally serious. But, someone who only reads the words I write may come away with an entirely different perception. They don’t get the humor. No subtlety.
I mean, just today someone responded to one of my rather feeble attempts at sarcastic humor by calling me (or I should say, “writing to me”) a “fu…ing idiot.”
To be clear. I am not now, nor ever have, claimed I am NOT a “fu…ing idiot.” I could very well be a “fu…ing idiot.” God knows, if you took a poll of the people who know me best, the results may be conclusive in a way that I would not prefer. But whether I am or am not a “fu….ing idiot” is not the point.
The point is that IN PERSON I doubt that anyone would call me a “fu…ing idiot” right to my face. At least not until they got to know me. On Facebook and other discussion sites people often make assumptions beyond the words. And base their responses on preconceived notions, based on , well, “baseless” assumptions.
I will be the first to admit that I am not immune. As a liberal who believes in the necessity of social programs I have a particular point of view. I start from a place based on my own life experiences and analysis of the systems within which we live. I try to use research and information from good sources.
For example, when I worked as a poll watcher I worked with Republicans. We have very different ideas about government, society and the role of government in that society. Yet, we were able to be pleasant, even joking, with each other for a day at the polls. As human beings, face to face, we did not devolve into name-calling “fu…ing idiots”.
Yet, when I get on some of these posts I morph . Dr Jeckel and Mr Hyde. Or is it Heckel and Jeckel? I confuse the two. Reading someone else’s post can immediately put me into antagonistic mode. Arguments ensue. When that happens I notice that each side tries to cherry-pick a point or two that they see as the weakness in the other’s position. A little information is a dangerous thing. Taking a word or brief quote or statistic out of context can be a sword, but not a very useful one. Unless the only goal is to stab.
And that sometimes devolves into insults, open or veiled. Now, I don’t mind if someone IMPLIES that I am stupid. Or uninformed. As long as they can demonstrate they have evidence from a legitimate source to educate me. And as long as they are open to my evidence to the contrary.
This is where a breakdown occurs. A matter of sources. When people are getting their “information” from biased or questionable sources it means communication of other viewpoints becomes near impossible. I admit my main sources of information are the old stand bys. The New York Times. The Washington Post. The New Yorker. The Atlantic. Why these? Because all these sources have strong reputations for properly vetting information before they print it. That doesn’t mean they don’t make mistakes. But it means that as sources go you can be assured that there was no rush to print. And you can assume multiple sources for stories.
I had an online argument with a lady who simply said that she would not read the New York Times since they were not trustworthy. OK. Then we really can’t talk, because there is no common ground of evidence to discuss. (I want to make a distinction between the NY Times news and the NY Times EDITORIAL board. The editorial board tends to be liberal, no doubt. But the editorial board has no influence on the news sections).
So, can we discuss important issues on Facebook in a civil manner? I don’t know. But I do know that Facebook has a handy feature called “blocking”. I have blocked a couple people recently. Not because I disagree with them. Not because I don’t like their ideas. Not because they are always wrong and I am always right. I blocked them because they personally attacked me and one called me a “fu…ing idiot”.
And calling me a “fu…ing idiot” is reserved for family and friends.