January 8, 2014

The Facebook Police.

I like Facebook—it’s like a party where there are people from every stage of my life, the music is great, and the drinks are top-drawer.

I have shared recipes, found faithful blog readers, and once had my runaway dogs found via Facebook.  Best of all, when it’s too much I can just click “x” and it’s over for the day.

I know there’s a dark side. Feelings of inadequacy may be worsened by the parade of wedding and vacation pictures, and face-to-face social life could be threatened. My husband hates Facebook because it’s phony, and my teenage son has abandoned it because it’s “lame” now that it’s been taken over by “old people.”

But I like it. I like to see pictures of babies, dogs, cats, gardens and cloud formations. I want to hear about what you made for dinner, the great book you read, or the concert you saw. When you write a blog post, I love having it come through my feed.

There’s just one problem: people are often snarky, judgmental and rude on Facebook in ways that would never be tolerated in “live” interaction.

People who would never, ever say to someone’s face “I think your blog post was really dumb” will post the same words in a comment.

People who have hundreds of “friends” are shocked and offended when some of those friends disagree on fundamental issues. They belong to a different political party, they are (or aren’t) spiritual, they do (or don’t) believe in Western medicine, or that pot should be legalized.

Because this, I believe: interactions on Facebook should be conducted with no less kindness and compassion than those at work, at the grocery store or in the studio. People need and deserve our support and our respect even if we disagree with them, or if they make a mistake. Maybe especially then. I also believe that we are not the arbiters of what anyone else does there. We are not the Facebook Police.

(I know I can hide The Police, or leave Facebook if I don’t like what I see, but it interests me as a phenomenon that some folks believe that they are personally charged with monitoring the political content, veracity and quality of other peoples’ Facebook posts).

I have a Facebook “friend” who posted a status about how silly memes were “clogging up his feed” and that people should stop posting them. He could have hidden the posters of the offending memes, ignored the memes or taken a walk outside. The only purpose served by such a public statement was to let people know that they should feel guilty, stupid and ashamed because they have a different idea about the proper use of Facebook.

The basic function of a “social” network is to entertain, and silly memes are totally in keeping with that charter. It’s great to use Facebook as a forum for serious, sociopolitical or spiritual material, but I am aware of no rule, tacit or explicit, that limits people to “important” posts.

And if there was such a rule, who would be the “content police?”

Oh, wait—I know. The Facebook Police.

The same people who feel compelled to let you know in public comments that the piece you posted is dated, that the study was disproved, or that it is Tom “Waits,” not Tom “Wait.” Factual stuff.

There are kinder ways to deal with a factual goof. If it’s dangerous misinformation (“Study Shows Babies Thrive on Diluted Maple Syrup”) I step in, gently to say that I’m aware of a different and well-established set of facts. That has happened precisely once in my years on Facebook.

If it’s a harmless but embarrassing goof, I use the “spinach in your teeth” rule.

If I’d want someone to tell me that I had made the mistake (“that’s actually from The Onion, and it’s not serious”), I will let the person know in a private message. It’s up to them to fix or not fix it.

If it’s really just a mistake, it’s none of my business and I move on. Because I am not the Facebook Police, and I get no pleasure from being the person who announces publicly that someone else has misstated how many inches of snow fell, or the title of a Doobie Brothers album from 1977. I don’t understand people who do. (If you understand it, will you tell me?)

There are also those who will fight you to the death based on a differing point of view, which we might call a “subjective goof.” (In other words, no actual facts are involved but someone believes someone else is, objectively, a backwards idiot).

Pro tip: I neutralize those people with kindness and walk away.

Every time. I don’t unfriend them because I don’t need to surround myself only with those who agree with me. I don’t fight back because it is not my place to “school” another adult about his or her personal beliefs. (Also, anyone picking a fight is already well aware that we disagree, and my reiteration of our differences in fifty shades of snark serves no purpose).

I will “call somebody out” in only two situations: if they make a sexist, homophobic, or racist comment, or if they attack someone. In other words, if they are hurting someone. Otherwise, I can absolutely live with someone expressing a different opinion, even if I vehemently and passionately disagree.

So I’ll be sticking around Facebook, a glass of Jameson’s in my hand and a witty comeback on my lips, swaying ever so slightly to Nina Simone. I’ll tread lightly, avoiding The Facebook Police and their recruiting stations. I’ll try, always,  to remember that ‘The Social Network” is an alternate universe in which every other being sees through a different lens, and has a different agenda, but deserves compassion and respect as part of a greater whole.

And maybe, that universe isn’t really all that “alternate.”


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Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photo: Sharon Hall Shipp on Flickr

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