#NotMyFacebook, or: Is Facebook For Political Discourse?

If you Google the question “What is Facebook for?” you come up with a short article by Mike Bantick for iTWire that bears the same name. Although it was published back in 2013 the basis for it is particularly topical, with the first paragraph relating the reason for it was written.

“Recently my brother told me he defriended a close friend of the family because of his overtly political posts on the social media website Facebook.  ‘That’s not what Facebook is for,’ he said, that got me thinking.”

Bantick then proceeds to list off a number of different answers gathered from friends and family, ultimately settling on a handful that he considers “the most truthful”:

“‘Referrals for products and services from people you trust, or know the value you place on the referrer’s knowledge of the requirements. Eg, games references, plumbers, mechanics, travel…. So useful and more personal than googling. You also then have wonderful reasons to catch up with people you may not otherwise.’

‘Stalking people and pictures of cats’

‘Annoying people with puns’

And, the one that resonated with me the most ‘Sharing sh&% for giggles…'”

The list has him implicitly agreeing with his brother. Facebook is for recommendations and, as the latter three state in various ways, for personal enjoyment. Not included among the social networking service’s uses? The dissemination of strongly held political beliefs or stances. Could’ve fooled me.

Given recent and continuing events in the United States the number of these kinds of posts has skyrocketed, so much so that a corresponding backlash has ensued. To start with, here’s something from one of my friends that popped up in my feed.

opinionbook

I have no trouble empathizing with this. Another friend of mine posts articles regarding the current US president’s administration like they might have Facebook ripped from their fingers at a moment’s notice, with several appearing every hour.

A counterpoint to his first statement, however, is that Facebook has always been “Opinionbook”. Going through the “most truthful” of Bantick’s uses for Facebook actually further cements that point. “Referrals for products and services from people you trust” suggests that your personal preference is for these specific companies. Cat pictures, puns, and sharing content for the purpose of amusing oneself or others are all further predicated on having opinions. Some people are dog people, while others will not share your sense of humour.

To be fair to them, however, they do note that “there is a lot of crazy and sad stuff happening in the world right now”, which exhibits a great deal more empathy than a Facebook post from Tracy Van Der Meulen.

As far as I can tell Van Der Meulen is not a celebrity, either major or minor, and as the caption states did not even create the poster above. At the time of this writing it has garnered 25K reactions, with the vast majority of them being positive [the “Sad” and “Angry” reactions combined don’t even reach 80], as well as over half a million shares.

I want to note that “DON’T CUSS ON MY WALL” and “STOP NAME CALLING” are sentiments that I can get down with. It’s entirely Van Der Meulen’s prerogative if she doesn’t wish to have profanity appear on her personal Facebook page, and name-calling and mudslinging are not conducive to productive dialogue. As for the rest of it, however…

It’s almost too easy to spotlight the inherent entitlement to statements like “MAKE ME LAUGH” and “GIVE ME A REASON TO SMILE”. The admonition for others to “QUIT [THEIR] [sic] PSYCO-BABBLE” is dismissive of any ideas the may be trying to share [as well as counter to “DON’T JUDGE”]. Her request that friends “POST ONLY HELPFUL THINGS” is highly subjective, but suggests that she doesn’t find political posts helpful. Lastly, there’s the thesis of this entire thing, stated twice, once as a hashtag.

#MAKEFACEBOOKFUNAGAIN

Are politics fun? I believe the average person would disagree. It wouldn’t surprise anyone to find out that HBO pulls in far more regular viewers than C-SPAN. That said, politics are important, and more than that, directly affect lives. Part of “[maintaining] aging friendships and [having] authentic interactions on the internet”, which my unnamed friend longs for, is engaging with them about issues that matter to them. It’s a revolutionary idea that producer Stephen Cope condensed down and posted to Twitter.

There are others, however, who go so far as to decry silence in the face of current events, such as the following indictment of those who praise Van Der Meulen’s motto:

The truth is that politics matter to people, and as such it will, on occasion, be what they want to talk about. You can choose not to engage with them [and even defriend them, as Bantick’s brother did], but that’s the risk you run in any personal relationship. Not everyone enjoys discussing adversity, which is how many within my own circles would define things [especially regarding Betsy DeVos and the American education system], but that’s how friendship works.

When you really boil it down Facebook was founded, and continues, to be centred around making connections and fostering relationships. It’s just that for many of those relationship components their world is changing drastically, possibly [and concretely for some] for the worst. How you choose to respond to that is up to you.

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