They Were Never Really My Friends: Facebook Revelations

“There are three things I have learned never to discuss with people: religion, politics, and the Great Pumpkin.” – Linus van Pelt in “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown”

Facebook has been great for me. I’ve reconnected with many people I haven’t seen in years, made many new friends, and have found yet another method of procrastination. The downside — or maybe it’s an upside — is that it’s revealed some very troubling things about the social media platform, and personal relationships.

I refer to the not-yet-codified protocol for political posts.

If a friend posts something political, you might reasonably assume that (absent prior agreements not to discuss politics), that dissenting views are welcome. After all, this is your friend. Friends can, and often do, disagree. If your friend only wanted to hear views that concur with her own, then one might reasonably assume that she would announce this.

So imagine my surprise, and subsequent disappointment, that twelve Facebook friends have de-friended me because I dared disagree with their posts. Now, in real-life, when I have disagreements with friends on matters of politics, we may yell and scream and jump up and down, but when all is said and done, we pat each other on the back and say, “I don’t agree with you, but I love you. Let’s not discuss politics anymore”, and we have a beer.

But in cyberspace, there is a dual sociological phenomenon at work. The first was posited by Dr. Stanley Milgram in his famous obedience experiment, which effectively showed that one is able to do something they might not normally do if they can do it anonymously. While de-friending is not exactly an anonymous act, the fact that it can be done remotely, without warning, without hearing an appeal, demonstrates how cyberspace contributes to the dehumanization of mankind. A de-friended friend is not a person. They are nothing more than a button that can be pressed and — POOF — they’re gone.

Can you imagine a more cowardly act? Before Facebook, before Email, if you got angry with a friend, you would actually have to have a conversation with them.

But now? Poof!

The second sociological phenomenon is discussed in David Mamet’s The Secret Knowledge: On the Dismantling of American Culture. Mr. Mamet reminds us that we are quite like rats in a lab experiment. When asked a question or given a task by an authority figure, a correct answer or action yields a reward. Perhaps the reward is praise, or a coin, or approval from a parent, or a pellet of food, or status, or position. Once we leave the lab, or “college”, and enter the real world, we come to prize the idea whose repetition rewards.

The reward in the real world, Mr. Mamet posits, is safety in the group.

I give you the Liberal.

Or, rather, I give you my de-friending Liberals. Because there are people of all political persuasions who unwittingly engage in the same behavior. The point is the same: do not leave the herd! To leave the herd is to risk status and position!

Thus, when my de-friending friends are confronted with a dissenting opinion, they are placed in a pickle. For the most part, Liberals are not capable or interested in hearing dissenting opinion. They prefer to quash it altogether. Barring that, the cognitive dissonance engendered by a reasonable and logical analysis of a Liberal’s unsupportable position, is often too great to bear. Rather than admit to the fact that their dearly-held world view may actually not hold up, and therefore face the horrible thought of leaving the herd, they instead rush back into the stampede, joining the clown car of Keynesians over the Cliffs of Insolvency.

However, there is an even greater impetus at play. The herd witnesses that an outsider strolls among them — He of The Dissenting Opinion. The herd stares disapprovingly at the One Who Invited The Dissenter. Sensing his status in the herd threatened, the Inviter assassinates the interloper. “There, see, I don’t like him. I killed him.” Status secured.

And so the Liberal becomes subservient to the group. He has handed over his power to others — answered correctly and been rewarded with a food pellet. The homogenous ideology takes even firmer root. All dissension shall be eliminated. The group shall be pure.

The final irony, thus, is that the Liberal who fears a totalitarian assault by the Right has created his own, from within, by his own actions.

So to my defriending Facebook friends — the one who defriended me because you asked what I though of Elizabeth Warren and I told you; because you attacked Rick Perry’s faith and I challenged you; because I told you that all Americans got a tax cut under George Bush when you said only the rich did; because you said my posts were alienating your other friends; because you think Israel sits on occupied land and I suggested that wasn’t the case; because you said collective bargaining is a right and I said it was a privilege; because you said the Tea Party is racist and I asked for proof; because you said the most vile and hateful things about a woman and I chastised you for your hateful rant —

You aren’t my friend. You were never my friend.

Because if you really were my friend, we’d yell and scream and jump up and down, but when all was said and done, we pat each other on the back and say, “I don’t agree with you, but I love you. Let’s not discuss politics anymore”, and we’d have a beer. And you’d be fine with that.

Because you know this is America, where we encourage debate and free speech, not shut it down.

So if you’re going to stick up a political post on Facebook, then be ready to hear another side. Otherwise, let us all know ahead of time that you only want to hear praise, approval, and get a food pellet.

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