Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Think Before You Type (Or: Be Kind Part 2)

So . . . I'm sure you're all aware that some political things happened this week. Political things and other polarizing things happen often, and we're not here to talk about them here. We are going to talk about Facebook.

Yesterday I watched a lot of conversations develop on my Facebook newsfeed. Many of them were not nice. Some of them had elements that were barely human. People were screaming at each other (figuratively, although I suppose it could have been literally as well - who's to know when the conversation is virtual?) about things that had very little to do with who the individuals involved were, and everything to do with their opinion about one political issue. I'd like to say I couldn't believe it, but I've seen it before. It just never fails to make me feel sick to my stomach.

The biggest issue for me is actually this: I hate it when people forget it's okay for someone to have a different opinion than they do. It doesn't make them bad people. It doesn't even necessarily (gasp!) make them wrong. It would be nice if it made them a nice counterpoint for your viewpoint so that you could both understand an issue better from both sides, and when people can remember that not everything has to be about who wins and who loses, sometimes those really great conversations happen and everyone comes out with a better understanding. It's just that so often - too often - it's much too easy to boil everything down to "I'm right, you're wrong, and what's more, you are a bad person for being wrong." And at that point, all conversation and learning stops and it's all just rage and hurt feelings. No one convinces anyone of anything when they are shouting at them - in person or virtually.

But I think the scariest part about the way we function on Facebook or blogs or Twitter is the way people can forget that the name and picture (or even worse, the disembodied text) they are responding to is a person - and not just a random stranger, but a friend. (Unless you're one of those people who actually talks to those random people you add on Facebook after you meet them once. You know who you are. Winky face.) I'm almost sure that about 80% of the really angry things people were saying wouldn't have been said if the conversations were happening face to face. Because the conversations happened online, they said completely hideous things to each other without feeling a twinge.

Bottom line: hate is not lovely. Cowardly hate on the Internet is even less lovely. It's easy to fall into the trap, but standing up for what you believe in and attacking the people who don't believe it are not the same. Be courteous. Be kind. But most of all, be aware of the fact that just because the person isn't in front of you doesn't mean their reaction isn't going to be real.


Miri said...

Thank you, Megan, for writing this!

I know people who are convinced that electronic communication is absolutely of the devil, and that nothing important should ever be said that way. I'm not going to argue with the fact that physical interaction is always preferable--I'm about as old school as people in our generation come, and I am the first to tell you that texting and online conversations can be incredibly frustrating because you miss out on all kinds of non-verbal cues.

However, I think we also need to realize that electronic communication is not going anywhere--and that it's not innately bad. Facebook is an amazing tool for keeping in touch with people who live in different states, and I have relationships with several family members now who I hadn't spoken to in years because there are just too darn many of them to keep up with using snail mail.

What is bad about electronic communication is how people use it. It's easy for people to get so confident in their anonymity (or just the fact that they aren't looking straight at a person) that they forget all their manners and any common decency at all. When things like politics come up, where people have very strong opinions, it is really easy to get out of control. We just need to always, always remember to be kind, and never judge people for having a different opinion than we do--no matter how difficult it might be for us to understand their side.

Miri said...

P.S. There are no words for how much I love that picture. :)

Lis said...

I think one trick to helping testy conversations go better is to listen to them like you want them to listen to you, rather than compiling responses in your head.

Melissa said...

I agree with this post wholeheartedly! Beautifully said. Especially the part where we hide behind a keyboard and say things we would never say to someones face. Someone actually said on my friends facebook "I think the founding fathers had it right by not allowing women to voice their opinion because when it comes to politics women are nuts and uneducated." I was floored. I know this person somewhat and I would have never guessed that those are his secret thoughts about women. It didn't even make me mad- it made me laugh really hard because it was such a ridiculous statement. It was really beyond anything I'd expect anyone to admit and I couldn't believe it.

Elise said...

BRAVO!!! I hate hate. I especially hate facebook hate because it's often so much more horrendous and overblown. This is why I veer away from politics--I know I shouldn't but it makes so many people mad that I just don't want to deal with it. I think the Beatles had it right: "All you need is love."

Julie W said...
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Meg said...

Julie - if you'll notice, I didn't say we shouldn't express our opinions on the Internet. I said that standing up for what we believe isn't the same as attacking people who don't think the same thing. Just because one person feels passionately about it in one way doesn't mean they should tell their friend who doesn't that they are a bad person. (I actually saw these exact words. 'If you think this, you are a bad person.')
I just think it would be great if we could talk about what we think WITHOUT making it personal or hateful. For me, that means I pretty much only discuss politics with people I know can talk about it in a constructive way - which means I've mostly stopped bringing it up it on my facebook page because someone always turns it into something that isn't constructive. I have good friends on both sides of the political spectrum who can talk about their opinions without attacking mine, and I actually learn from them when we talk.
To give a less inflammatory example, I've even seen people go on the offense when they were talking about Macs vs. PCs. Really? Someone has to be right or wrong about that? I've cracked a joke about how much I love my mac and ended up with 20 people commenting about how terrible Apple is and how ignorant Mac users are in the ways of computers. It's crazy. Just because I like my computer and you like yours doesn't mean we can't be friends!
Finally, passion may have a place in politics, but at least from my perspective, hate never should. I really love this press release that the LDS church put out last fall. I wish more people would take it to heart when they were expressing their opinions.

Whitney said...

I really liked the article you posted from the Church. Thanks!

Miri said...

Julie, being passionate about things is great. There's nothing wrong with getting worked up about something. What I think we're talking about here is the fact that no matter how passionate you get about something, that isn't an excuse to treat people badly.

When we were kids we all learned things like respecting others, being kind, and not calling names, and the point is that those rules still apply as adults. Treating others the way you want to be treated is not something you do only with your friends, or when you're in a good mood--it's something you do with everyone you meet, even when you might be upset about something.

(This is, of course, leaving aside the issue of trying to see the other person's point of view, which is something we should all do. But even if you don't, even if you're absolutely convinced that you are right and they are wrong--that is never an excuse to be rude to someone.)

Julie W said...
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Julie W said...
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Julie W said...

Bravo Meg, I love this post!