I broke my Facebook argument virginity and all I got was this lousy blog post

I have a hate/hate relationship with Facebook. Sure, I didn’t have to rejoin the social media giant three times. But I did. The reality is that Facebook is a necessary evil. For me? It’s a networking tool for freelancing. Also, after moving across the country, it aided me in remembering new faces and new acquaintances.

Facebook, really, isn’t evil. I try not to be an either/or type of person. I believe it’s best to live somewhere in the middle. Between the mean of two extremes, as Aristotle would tweet.

Facebook arguments, however, are evil and dumb and silly and fun to watch.

They have never settled well with me. Mean spirited. All-too-easy. Festering and sprouting at every opportunity, usually ending in a dog pile of earnest, hurt emotions.

As a veteran online-conscious being, I have abjured all temptations to join any form of online argument. Even as a political Independent. The stuff I see on Facebook (racist, ignorant, stereotype perpetuating, heavy bias journalism) makes me want to scream my fingers off. And the way people pounce on one another. Ugh.

Facebook is a daily lesson in self-restraint, certainly.

That is, until I broke my Facebook argument virginity. I caved in. I can’t even find my promise ring.

The Facebook Argument

There are many kinds of online arguments. Let’s break this down.

Prominent three types:

  1. The Frama: Family drama. When your distant, older cousin Sally calls out her stepmother to express a theory about why the whole family hates sluts like her. Don’t pretend you haven’t seen this before. What we don’t know is why punctuation disappears.
  2. The Stranger than Fiction: Strangers arguing on message boards or on Page share comments. Youtube is famous for this. We have decided as a society that it’s important to win unimportant arguments with strangers. Because… It’s just important, okay?
  3. The Familiar Contrarian: The outlier friend or family member disrupting a heavy biased discussion. The gay friend interrupting a Christian gay marriage debate, or a liberal/conservative interjecting alternate views into an insular, unwelcoming post.

I was the third guy, the Familiar Contrarian. I read something, from a friend, that struck me to my core, and I let myself drop my standards and engage in Facebook politics. I started with a joke, but then, the more I thought about it, the more I read people commenting and further perpetuating an awful, uninformed stereotype, I responded again—what I thought was a well-thought, balanced, not angry reply—and I hit send, I closed my computer and I walked away.

A few hours later my wife informed me that I was sort of an asshole.

She didn’t necessarily say those words, but in effect, she showed me the responses to my responses and I learned that I was not as balanced and calm as I remembered being. I also learned that there was no such thing as a winnable argument on Facebook.

Like and Share

The conversation had shifted. It wasn’t about my friend being wrong and me being right, it was about how pretentious my comment was, and how hurtful I was being.

Wait a sec, I exclaimed! This isn’t about me! Is it? I wasn’t the one..

I typed some more. Everything got worse.

A long story short, my friend and I made up because we talked. Like, actually talked. Off of Facebook. We remembered—the second that we heard each other’s voices—that we love each other. And oh, yeah, Facebook was never made to host political, racial arguments. Those sort of things are meant to be done face to face, in moderated environments, not through an impersonal, emotional screen that masks our tones with indifference and misunderstanding.

But Facebook does and allows everything. We can’t control it. We can only control ourselves.

Here are some other lessons I learned in the process (in Kevin-question format):

  1. Why didn’t I just pick up the phone and call/text him or her right away? What did I gain by keeping this conversation on Facebook?
  2. Facebook arguments are impossible to win. But really, why try to win any argument? It seems better to search for compromise and to learn from one another.
  3. Was it my ego I was trying to protect? I was trying to win on Facebook because—maybe subconsciously—I knew others would be watching.
  4. Conveying any sort of tone on Facebook that isn’t super angry or super happy is about as possible as a snowy California Christmas. Shouldn’t I have given my friend the benefit of the doubt? Maybe I was misreading his or her tone like they were misreading mine.
  5. It’s okay to disagree, remember? Facebook is, sadly, a good thing. It allows differing opinions and perspectives to coexist within the same space. How rare is that? Churches can’t even do that. Maybe this is just the growing pains of a new, more engaged society.

All this to say, I still believe everything we say, on any platform—regardless of intentions—can hurt people, and that we should all be careful of what we say. We should never post anything online that we wouldn’t back up in person. Argue if necessary, but not online. It’s like pouring your spouse’s clothes on the lawn for the neighbors to see. Fun for others to watch, but potentially trauma inducing for the parties involved.

Here’s my final big take away: During your next Facebook argument (it’s bound to happen again), in the midst of your emotional, heart/finger-pounding moment, remember to have grace for each other. If your feelings are hurt—or you feel that someone you know is being ridiculous, cold, or unintentionally insensitive—maybe just call them? Be a person, not a post.

Facebook is awkward this way. It’s begging us to communicate and engage with each other, but it’s also begging for an incredible amount of self restraint.

My friend—the one I argued with—later put it this way: “Facebook is one big, complex blog about humanity.” It’s true, you smart kid. Unfortunately, humanity is still learning how to communicate online. Growing pains. Growing pains.

Have you ever had a Facebook argument? What did you learn in the process?

Header Photo [https://www.flickr.com/photos/banestudios/15030993317/]

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7 comments

  1. I’ve had plenty of facebook conversations (at least I thought they were conversations until everyone tried to argue my opinion down because they thought I was angry). It’s true, a post is usually taken as a challenge. I recently told a friend that about me and another friend who was in the conversation, “Hey, we both know that stormtroopers are not clones” (yeah it happened) , and my friend immediately replied, “No need to get irked and defensive”. Was I angry? No. I was just informing, hey I know that too, but he thought I meant something else.
    Generally, I just try to stay away from facebook debates. I have a lot of friends, who, contrary to their thinking of themselves as open minded and considerate, are major hypocrites and jerks on facebook. In real person those friends are really nice people.

    1. Caleb! Thanks for the comment. Isn’t crazy how quicky things get out of hand? Like the Star Wars thing (intentional Star Wars/”hand” pun). If you had been talking in person, it wouldn’t have been nearly that bgi of a deal. It can be frustrating how comments are turned ugly.

      1. Haha, “out of hand”. Agreed it wouldn’t have, and thankfully I’ve had that conversation with said friend.

  2. “Be a person, not a post.” Sage advice. I grow so weary of the posturing in which people engage on Facebook. One person I have befriended regularly defines the nature of his relationships. Recently, he posted, “If you think Pete Rose should be in the Hall of Fame, unfriend me.” Really? So much for diverse dialogue.

  3. I’ve recently pared back my Facebook friend list severely, to the point where I even unfriended my brothers. How is it that family members can be the most judgmental of all? I may just be too thin skinned though. I recently bragged that I had finally found the three perfect makeup products, and was slightly hurt when someone responded with “You’re beautiful without makeup”. Like, are you judging me for wanting to look pretty? Prettier than you, even?!? 😡 Thankfully I have learned my lesson in the past and now if I’m upset by something on Facebook I just disengage, turn off notifications, leave my friends to argue amongst themselves. It’s a hard lesson to learn.

    1. Paring back Facebook is a good idea in general. I’ve also been filtering my News Feed a bit more. I don’t read bias-heavy material from certain media sources then I can choose to filter it out. That said, there’s a balance. I don’t want to filter stuff I disagree with just for the sake of making myself feel better.

      It’s so hard to have any conversation on FB. Especially if it turns to argument. It sounds like you have a fair amount of self-restraint. More than I do!

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