I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend. ~Thomas Jefferson
One major pitfall of online social networking occurs when voicing one’s opinion on a hot topic. It’s bad enough when you read many of the viewpoints by strangers who post comments online on The Huffington Post, Yahoo! and Google, especially those that contain profanity, hurl insults and are short on facts.
But what happens when you read differing political beliefs by your friends on your Facebook page?
According to a recent article in boston.com, a study by the Pew Research Center indicates that too much posting on Facebook pages of political opinions and rants is resulting in a wave of unfriending. Nearly half of the people surveyed said they had been wrong about their friends’ political leanings.
That brings up a couple of issues:
- Know Your Facebook Friends: Whether or not you discuss politics with your friends, you probably know what their political views are. If you are among those who have been surprised lately by friends’ political views that have appeared on your Facebook page, and unhappy with how these views are being expressed, perhaps it’s time to evaluate whether these are really friends with whom you should be connected – not because their politics differs from yours, but because you don’t know them well enough to be Facebook friends.
- Withdrawing From a Friend: As the Thomas Jefferson quote raises the issue of opinions and friendship, you should ask yourself if you truly want to withdraw from a friend because of a difference of opinion over politics. It’s understandable that topics relating to politics, religion or philosophy can prompt deep emotions to surface causing conflict between the closest of friends, family and lovers. It’s not only that those close to us think differently from us, but there is the fear that they might act in a way that might bring about a situation that would negatively affect our lifestyle or the way we feel about them. However, in most cases a difference of opinion can be healthy, encouraging stimulating debates and prompting us to look at issues in a new light. Thus, it’s important to consider the value of a friendship, and make reasoned judgments whether to end a relationship over a difference of opinion, in beliefs or practice. You need to decide whether the friendship’s other assets – such as loyalty, dependability, respect and willingness to give, share and listen to our problems as well as the ability to cheer and support you – outweigh an occasional difference of opinion and sporadic outburst of emotion over that difference.
- Take Appropriate Action: If you are annoyed, or appalled, by your Facebook friends’ postings – political or otherwise – that are appearing on your page, do something about it:
– Unfriend: If you have decided that it was a mistake to friend someone, then unfriend him. Keep in mind that Facebook is part of your total network; therefore, consider striving for quality over quantity. Just mull over carefully before taking this step.
– Unsubscribe: If a true friend is bombarding your Facebook page with annoying political updates but you don’t want to unfriend her, consider unsubscribing to her updates. You can always subscribe again once the political season has ended. Or not.
– Recheck your Privacy Settings: This should be an ongoing process to ensure that you know exactly what your privacy level is, and that it’s where you want it to be.
Recently, my daughter and I engaged in a philosophical discussion that became quite emotional as our positions parted company. This is a subject in which she is well versed and she “broke my brain,” to use her terminology. I can only imagine how we both might have appeared if this discussion had occurred online, where only our words could be seen but not our facial expressions, voice tones and body language. When one discusses or debates in person it is quite different from debating online behind your computer screen. Our discussion ended with laughter and teasing; and although I was shaken emotionally, my intellectual interest was certainly piqued. As far as I know, she has not unfriended me from her Facebook page!
It bears repeating that your Facebook page is part of your total network. It’s quite possible that one or more of your Facebook friends will become recruiters, hiring managers, prospective clients, industry leaders or a potential life partner. Maintain your Facebook presence and brand with sophistication, savvy, manners and respect and it can be strong and effective part of your network.
Therefore, when posting your updates, and especially if you are airing your political views, watch your tone and language. Construct coherent sentences and phrases and represent your point of view and yourself with maturity, intelligence, respect and reason. Make sure of your facts and avoid wild statements, insulting remarks or personal attacks. It’s admirable to participate in political debate; just don’t let it deteriorate into a virtual food fight. People are watching.
Whether you’re a donkey or an elephant or neither, preserve your dignity and credibility. Political passion – whether you express it loudly on Facebook or quietly in person to friends – should be accompanied by civic responsibility. Get involved, back your candidate, register to vote before the deadline, and then cast your vote on Tuesday, November 6th, to preserve for yourself and your friends that precious freedom of speech with which we have to be so careful!
Until next time,