The Political Pitfalls of Facebook

I’m currently afraid to express my opinion on Facebook or opine about anything other than my dog in this newspaper, which is the only safe topic that seems to unite both conservatives and liberals.

Before I go any further, I want to say that my actual political opinions are irrelevant to the point I am about to make in this column. If you are a Democrat, assume that I am a Democrat, and if you are a Republican, assume that I am a Republican. 

There are a lot of things to criticize on my side of the aisle—whatever that may be—but the vitriol, hyperbole and intellectually dishonest and hypocritical arguments espoused by some people who hate my side only serve to make me both defensive and not want to listen. When faced with people like that, my knee-jerk reaction is to simply embrace and defend my side. 

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Now, to be fair, I’ve engaged in my own hyperbole and I’m guilty of sometimes using circuitous logic to prove my point, at times protecting my pride over the pursuit of perfect truth. And as an imperfect human being, I’m certainly not immune from engaging in hypocrisy.

On social media, despite some relapses, I’m doing my best to bite my tongue, in part because I’m not confident that my friends and family, whom I love despite our political differences, would love me back. Excuse me for engaging in hyperbole, but I feel like we are in a quasi-civil war, and friends and family are on both sides of the divide, where hate may trump love. Some friends and relatives don’t defend my character when their own social media friends—people whom I’ve never met—say that my political positions mean that I have a “mediocre sense of right and wrong.”

I’m saddened by this discourse. When I have respectful debates with people, I have no problem finding some common ground or perhaps even changing my position if someone teaches me something new. But I will concede that my own behavior isn’t innocent.

I recently commented on my cousin’s Facebook post and felt bad about it for a couple of days. I wanted to reply with an apology, but I was afraid that my apology would be met with an attack by my cousin’s friend who questioned my morality.

I’ve redacted some specifics because they are irrelevant to my larger point, but here is what I wrote (although, I never hit send):  

“Honestly, in hindsight, I really regret ever replying to [my cousin’s] post and I apologize to [him/her] that the link I included suggested [he/she] was being hypocritical. I really don’t know enough about [my cousin’s] past positions to suggest anything like that, and I apologize.

“That being said, at one point, I was very close to pulling the lever for [the presidential candidate that my cousin preferred]. There are some things I like about [one of the candidates] and some things that make me feel uneasy. But I really like the fact that [he/she] is at least addressing my concerns about [X,Y,Z topic] and that [he/she] isn’t so reflexively [against a certain position], like [another politician].

“[A particular topic] is one of my deepest political priorities and I know that this [politician] isn’t seeking to [harm the people I care about]. Clearly [my cousin], you and many of [his/her] friends on Facebook [totally support/are outraged by a particular politician] and want to do everything possible to [help/stop him/her]. If that is your goal, then I am telling you these posts and links expressing [support/outrage] only serve to agitate [that politician’s opponents/supporters] and drive [his/her opponents/supporters] more deeply into [the opposing politician’s/that politician’s] camp.

“If, however, everyone could have a thoughtful conversation, myself included in this equation, because I am guilty, at times, of debating with my pride at the forefront instead of seeking common ground, then I would be more willing to hear and understand the other side, and perhaps even change my positions.

“However, to be told I have a mediocre sense of right and wrong only serves to make me hold more steadfast to my positions. I really wish there could be a conversation where we could address [a particular topic] and a humanitarian way to solve it. Unfortunately, I’ve concluded that Facebook is not the medium where that is going to happen. We don’t see each other’s humanity behind these computer screens, and yes, I am guilty of my inability to see this as well, at times. I wish everyone on this post the best and I apologize to [my cousin] for interfering in [his/her] advocacy efforts.”

A local clergyman in one of the towns covered by our newspapers recently admonished his flock to get off Facebook and told congregants that it is more important to act Godly in our daily lives than it is to make political comments on Facebook.

If we can’t all somehow get past our political differences and start hearing one another, then this pastor is totally correct.

Editor's Note:  On the World Scene is a column written by Brett Freeman, publisher of Halston Media, franchisee/publisher of TAPinto Mahopac, North Salem, Somers, and Yorktown.

The opinions expressed herein are the writer's alone, and do not reflect the opinions of or anyone who works for is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the writer.

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