The Facebook Wars (or Why Soundbites Suck)

I just recently came back to Facebook after a long hiatus and found myself right in the middle of election season. Normally, I am blissfully unaware of the heated exchanges and hate-filled rhetoric because I don’t watch commercial television and rarely listen to the radio (preferring Netflix and Pandora One instead). So I’m suffering from a little culture shock being suddenly caught in the Facebook crossfire.

Don’t get me wrong. I have no problem with the expression of closely held political beliefs. And I am a voter. I have not yet opted out of the system entirely (though I am sorely tempted). But I’ve noticed a strange phenomenon regarding the expression of beliefs on Facebook. It makes the people posting seem so much nastier than they really are.

Many of my friends are on opposite sides of various issues and some of the things they choose to post are really mean. Sometimes clever and funny, but still really mean. I know a lot of these people well and they all seem to me to be decent, hardworking, and intelligent. I’ve had dinner with them. Sympathized when things have gone wrong in their lives. Accepted sympathy from them when things have gone wrong in mine. I’ve played music with them, watched movies with them, held their babies. They are not evil. But they call each other evil, yes they do.

It’s hard for me to understand this disconnect. If they were all standing in a room together having a sociopolitical discussion, I doubt they would say half of what they post. But on Facebook it’s so easy to share that one-liner about how stupid religious people are. Or that cartoon where all liberals are leeches. Or those rants about how political candidate X should be strung up along with all his followers. If you go by Facebook, none of my friends should ever meet lest they start lighting torches and collecting stones.

But I know different. I know if they were face to face, discussing real things, like beer and vacations, illnesses and credit card debt, pets and favorite colors, they’d see that they’re the same in so many ways. I know they would have to think twice about who they’re blaming for all the problems in the universe.

I’m sure the philosophical differences would eventually cause conflict, but I believe the ensuing discussion would be a lot more civil and meaningful because it would be between people, not soundbites. In my humble opinion, soundbites suck because they reduce very complex issues to easily digestible nonsense. I believe that the more we portray the people who disagree with us as monsters, the more dangerous life is for all of us. And soundbites just love to play the monster card. Because it’s easier.

I’m not a monster and I don’t believe my friends are monsters either, no matter what their stand on abortion is, how much money they gave to political party X, or how they feel about immigrants. Are they confused? Yes. Woefully misinformed? Possibly. Scared? Definitely. But monsters? No. They are parents and teachers, scientists and deacons, artists and construction workers. Just average, everyday people like me.

So if I block your posts and you don’t hear from me on Facebook for awhile, it’s not because I don’t like you anymore. It’s because I don’t like what you’re saying about my friends. And that goes for both sides. We have to keep talking to each other like people. We can’t hide behind clever insults and convenient generalizations. Because once the talking stops, the shooting starts.

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