Even On Facebook, Silence Can Be Golden

Cartioon of man zipping his lips, with the caption "Zip It!"Social media generally isn’t a place where things happen, at least for my friends and me. It’s a place where we share what has happened, is happening or is about to happen in our lives. We check in at our favorite restaurants and sporting arenas, post photos of kids and cocktails, and circulate links to our blogs.

For some users, Facebook is a platform for spirited debate — but not really in my case. That’s not to say I never share sarcasm or express political opinions. I do, but it’s not to provoke an argument. So if you’re looking to mix it up on social media, just keep on walking.

This week I witnessed a Facebook exchange that started out innocently enough, but went south in a hurry. It got me thinking about how the platform can morph as we expand our list of “friends” to possibly include colleagues (and former colleagues), old classmates, distant relatives, in-laws, and so on. Eventually, our posts can land in the news feeds of both close friends and distant acquaintances who have never met – with some unfortunate consequences.

My high school friend I’ll call “S” shared a bittersweet story about her daughter, who is around 6 years old and as smart as a whip.  The little girl missed out on her desired role in a school production of “Frozen”, in part thanks to the class bully. I don’t have particulars about how it all went down backstage, but according to S the bully followed up by calling her daughter a lesbian.  Her daughter replied, “I don’t think that’s a bad word, but I am not a lesbian, I don’t think, because I think I like [male classmate].”  Wasn’t that a great answer?  Didn’t I say she was smart?

It hurts to see your child profoundly disappointed and bullied, so S turned to Facebook, where her friends offered words of encouragement and praise for her daughter. A few even took shots at the bully, who was not named (and neither was the school).  It’s safe to say S is not Facebook friends with the bully’s parents, so it was all pretty tame and low risk…until someone on the string called the bully the b-word. That’s when the s-word hit the fan.

I’m not big on name calling; even if I’m fuming I usually stick with “jerk”. Still, I was shocked when one of S’s Facebook friends became outraged and let the commenter HAVE IT. She was patronizing and judgmental, which only encouraged more Go-Team comments from the crowd.

S explained in a private message that these squabbling “friends” had never met, so the indignant one didn’t realize that the name-caller is gay, and perhaps extra sensitive to terms like “lesbian” being hurled like rocks by schoolyard bullies.

If S had met friends for happy hour and shared her story, someone would probably have criticized the bully and her parents, and perhaps even called the kid a name. If the outraged Facebook friend had been in attendance, would she have brought the hammer down on the conversation? She presumably would have known everyone at the table, so would she have held her tongue or tried to subtly change the subject instead?

Did the nature of Facebook enable her in some way? There was no anonymous handle to hide behind, but her combativeness may have been fueled by geographic distance and the knowledge that there was virtually no chance she’d ever meet the name-caller face to face.

S’s friend argued that Facebook is public, and therefore an inappropriate forum in which to criticize someone else’s child — even if you don’t use his/her name. But is it really public, if your posts are seen by “friends only”?  Is the issue that many of us have been too liberal in how we’ve defined “friend”? 

In social media and on my blog, my motto is: “Don’t post anything you wouldn’t want your mom or boss to read.” That doesn’t mean they have to AGREE with what I write. What’s more, I don’t feel obligated to moderate comments to my posts to ensure that they are palatable to everyone I’m connected to. If someone did something nuts like use a racial epithet, I’d delete the comment and block them. Otherwise, I assume my friends will keep debate constructive and non-personal. If they just can’t manage that, there’s always the “hide” function.

While I’ve hidden a few “my life is so great, my spouse is so hot, my house is so large” types, I would never dream of chastising them. I accept that others may find them sweet or inspirational; I just find them annoying. No need to make a big fuss about it, though. Relief it just a click or two away. 

Facebook dislike buttonS’s friend was unwilling to just step away from her computer, and the confrontation did not end well for her. The next time she is similarly incensed, maybe she’ll choose to just be still. To paraphrase a line from the Hayden Panettiere song “Boys and Buses”, if you aren’t happy with what you’re seeing on Facebook right now, “just give it ten or fifteen minutes.” By then, the offending remarks will be long gone, replaced by a new set of posts and comments to judge.

If Facebook ever reaches a point where political correctness interferes with the ability to be authentic, in the spirit of “we’re all friends here” (or at least, we’re all civilized adults here)… that’s when I’ll go shopping for a new social media outlet.

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2 thoughts on “Even On Facebook, Silence Can Be Golden

  1. Another great blog! I’m sorry it took me so long to pick up on it! Thank you for your declaration that you won’t stand for PC over authentic. This week I made a benign (and, I promise!, completely civilized comment) comment disagreeing with one of my more rabid left-wing acquaintances. Several of her friends wrote back in disagreement of me, but also in a civilized manner. As you can see, it was all quite civilized until my acquaintance shot back [at me] with an expletive filled rant that was almost nothing short of shocking. Needless to say I unfriended her immediately for two reasons: Who has the energy to deal with that kind of vitriol and who wants to be “friends” with someone who can’t have a reasoned debate over something stupid like what Michael Douglas said in his Golden Globe acceptable speech?!

    P.S. I really can’t get started on my feelings about how screwed up our society is that the bullies have now become victims. (Why can’t I get started? Because it makes me so crazy I could cry.) ‘

  2. Thanks! I totally agree with you about not having the energy. Some folks might say, “Why post a political comment if you don’t want to debate it?” But it’s not so much that I don’t want to debate, as that I don’t want to go to the mat over it… or defend it against vicious attack! I ignore stuff people say on FB that I disagree with ALL THE TIME. Why can’t these folks just WALK AWAY.

    Most days, I’m too busy and too tired to argue with anybody. If that were fun, I’d call Comcast customer service after work each night. Besides, I think it’s fair to say no strong opinion was ever changed by a FB debate. All that ever happens is 1.) people overreact and embarrass themselves, 2.) folks like me kind of watch the train wreck from the sidelines (and then maybe blog about it) and 3.) at least one person is unfriended and possibly blocked.

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