How many times have you been “de-friended” on social media?
I haven’t been keeping score. But I am sure it is quite a few. A friend of mine has a recurring thread on his timeline where he recounts stories in which he was de-friended. It is hilarious. But while my friend laughs it off, I generally feel kind of hurt whenever I get defriended.
Social media can become an echo chamber where you only hear opinions that you are likely to share and dissenters are usually called out, shouted down, and shamed before they have a chance to explain themselves. The echo chamber end game is being spoon-fed news and opinions with no need to question, read further, or think critically about much of anything.
So I do my best to curate my news feed to give me a diverse range of perspectives and opinions. I quite enjoy thinking and pondering about things, so the last thing I want to some kind of news-pablum, free from any discomfort or potential to offend.
Learning should always be a little uncomfortable. And why else are we reading about each other’s lives and opinions if not to learn more about each other?
You need friends who see the world differently than you. They will force to reconsider. They might get under your skin, but they are providing with such a valuable service.
“If you don’t believe in thing x or thing y then unfollow me right now”
I come across posts like this fairly often. They are lines in the social media sand. The authors of such posts are not looking to engage in conversation, get a new perspective, or learn why somebody might think differently than they do. This style of post is emblematic of how social media makes us dumber.
I realize some people are just nasty trolls who relish the thought of forcing you to respond to some inane accusation, ad hominem attack, or false equivalency. You should defriend those people. Your social media should be a place where you connect with people, not a place where put on your armour and go to battle.
But you don’t need to go to war with most of your friends. You have things to learn from your friends. You have things to learn from your racist uncle, your snowflake co-worker, your self-righteously liberal high school friend, and your profoundly uneducated Trump-loving, flat earther rando in your feed. They have a perspective. They believe these things for a reason, and with some thoughtful comments and questions you can shed some light why they think the way they do.
You do not need to agree with every perspective you encounter online. In fact, I sincerely hope you do not. Lines in the social media sand need to be drawn from time to time. Just choose your battles carefully.
It is sooooooo tempting to write off people with whom we disagree as stupid. But that would be a mistake. They are not stupid. They think differently. Their priorities do not align with yours, sometimes in dramatic ways. But they are somebody’s son or daughter; they want approval and understanding just like you. They want to be respected and accepted by their peers. They want to not feel alone.
Social media is practice for living in a globally interconnected world. We are no longer in isolated villages where our neighbours all think, dress, and act the same as us. We live in a global village now.
Our neighbours think, dress, and act in ways that we might not appreciate or understand. And sometimes people just need to think with their keyboards. They just like to throw some ideas out into the internets to see what their friends think. They aren’t professing to their most passionate political beliefs, they might just be trying on some hats.
If we have any hope of living in a peaceful, cooperative world we are going to need to start learning to appreciate and understand our differences. And if we can’t do it from behind our keyboards, there is no way it is going to happen on the street.