Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Why Discussing Politics on Facebook is Bad for You

Every few days, everyone on my facebook feed gets the politics bug. I don't know why. Scratch that, I do know why. It's because we all have the same friends, and so when you share something, all of your friends who are also my friends share it, and then more stuff like it, and suddenly the entire internet has a theme. At least, my view of the internet. My little tiny window directly influenced by who I choose to be in my feed. Today my window looked out into discussions of whether Joss Whedon is actually a feminist, an essay everyone posted about why traditional marriage was a misnomer, and then an essay about modern neuroses being the product of a capitalism free market society. I saw each of these things three separate times. I think I may make a new rule for myself against reposting, it smacks of incest. So much repeating.

 These are all very argumentative shitstorm topics though, and it got me riled up, my post whiskey juices flowing, and I really wanted to get into an argument over one of them. Maybe the marriage one? Definitely the capitalism one. I had points! I wanted to make them! I wanted someone to disagree with me, so I could burrow down deep into those points and discuss them vehemently!

 I posted on my facebook wall: It's politics day! Let's Argue!

 The problem is, there's nothing to argue about. Because out of my 814 facebook friends, I only know of two that would vocally be willing to disagree with me on the capitalism thing, and three that I could maybe argue the Whedon As Feminist Thing, if they cared to, but why would they? Why would I? Almost across the board, the people I have friended are tolerant liberals. Even if they disagree on a little point, like if God exists, they are still not going to argue about it, because they are polite and understand there are other viewpoints and we should all act like adults (adult being a code word for not fighting back). Boring. The responses I got to my facebook post were snarky jokes, and I made jokes back, and then all of sudden we were right back in the middle of a meaningless thread with no real exchange of ideas, just trying to outjoke each other about rightwingers and tea. I love my friends, they are funny people and witty and pithy, but how many threads like that do you participate in a day? The first instinct on facebook or twitter is to go for the joke. If we are funny, then more people will like us and respond and we'll feel rewarded, that's the whole point of social media. It's why both those forums are flooded with posts that are nothing more than emotional triggers - humor or "inspirational sentiment" or righteous anger, those are the quickest ways to make people click on something and thereby acknowledge you.

 It made me miss the message board. Sure message boards were vicious and stupid, but at least they were accessible to people not already approved by you.

 The other problem with politics on facebook is that it takes the nuance out of the discussion. You post something about gay marriage. Your friends all agree with it. In fact, they are already aware of whatever new story has broken but they repost it anyway. Their friends all agree with it. Maybe some distant relative doesn't, but your facebook post isn't going to change their mind, and anyway you've got them on a filter because you don't want their super conservative crazy talk clogging up the feel good righteousness of you and your friends. How can you make jokes about crazy teabaggers if you let your crazy teabag aunt read it? If you do get any disagreement, it's quickly nullified by the snarkiness of your overly witty friends. And we're right back to making jokes. Nobody learned anything.

 Of course I'm oversimplifying my experience. BECAUSE THAT'S WHAT FACEBOOK HAS TAUGHT ME TO DO.

 And real political theory? Real analysis of how an issue might affect someone other than yourself, a discussion not just of your own personal emotions but of actual facts and statistics and philosophies, is almost completely absent.

 Discussing politics on Facebook makes you feel more informed while in fact just stroking your ego and warping your perspective of the real world, all those people you are not connected with who still exist. Your friends, though a majority in your life, are not reflective of the whole. It's the glass bubble of your social economic class bias magnified and seemingly validated. We have isolated ourselves in little internet circles of people we are comfortable with. A medium that should have made us more worldly instead makes us more provincial. If we do ever have to interact with dissenting opinion in the real world, we run right back to our bubbles, and let the responses flow in about how we were right and they were wrong and blah blah blah people suck. It feels so good to have people tell you that you are right. It's addicting and easy.

 I guess the point I'm trying to make is I want to be challenged, I want to have to think and defend myself. But that isn't going to happen online anymore, because the insulation around our chosen social circles is wrapped so tight it's cutting off circulation. And when all this initial social interaction happens online, our real world interactions become solely guided by it. We meet people our friends already know on facebook. We make plans on facebook. We go to some event and talk to only people we already know on facebook. It's getting musty.


  1. Um, then start commenting on other websites!

  2. Well, yeah, agreed. I think all websites are biased naturally because of their readership. But I guess all you can do is try to push your bubble bigger and bigger, you can't ever quite break it. Anyway, what are some good ones where the comments sections aren't on fire?

  3. i don't think you can possibly find quality argument online anywhere; much less on FB. i don't even talk with my few friends...it seems pointless, as you mention: they're either on "the same team" or you have some weird, irrational banter that almost always ends up being a religious argument. i'd rather talk with people about art or writing. politics is shit all around

  4. The echo chamber I see on Facebook and even in Blogland to some extent kills me because everyone just affirms how great they are and how much everyone else sucks, never mind that heaven forbid if we actually sat across from a table we'd realize that we'd maybe have something in common and be decent people, albeit with some weird views. Because no group, no matter how nutty they look on the surface is a complete groupthink monolith.

    I don't even bother with the meme things because it's a bumper sticker slogan that discourages any form of discussion.

    Also, I tend to make everyone mad, and sure as hell don't even want to go there on the Internet, being that I'm my peer group's token harmless Jesushead fundie and for the other half of my world I'm a flaming commie liberal for being pissed off about drones and torture and the way we treat people who don't look like us.

    So yeah, I get this, and it's where the Internet has failed me. I'd rather talk about stuff over some kind of drinks and maybe food where it's easier to expound and harder to get misconstrued!


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