Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Crossing the Line Online

Note: I updated this post a few days after the original posting. The updates are in Green.

In the past couple of years, I have had to unfriend about five people for various reasons on Facebook (two of those people were just in the past month!). Sometimes this is a heart-wrenching decision, sometimes it is very easily-made decision. After the last one, it was suggested to me that I do some soul-searching.

After said soul-search, I realized that there was a common denominator in all the unfriendings I've had to do. As it turns out, there aren't a variety of reasons: there's just one main reason.

As many of you know, I like to explore ideas on my Facebook page. Some are silly, some are deep, and some are controversial. Fortunately, most of my Facebook friends are highly intelligent and opinionated people, so most of the time, I get valuable feedback. I have absolutely no problem with being disagreed with. In fact, I'm hoping someone will have an opposite view so that we can discuss it and I can either get a new perspective or have the chance to win them over to my side. Sometimes, neither of those two things happen and we just have to agree to disagree, as frustrating as that can be. It's rarely a wasted effort.

However, sometimes these disagreements can cross the line and become personal and this is not acceptable.  If I have posted something that you feel to be offensive, you can call me on it and explain your position. I may debate you on this issue if I feel you have misunderstood, but you're not going to win me over by personally attacking me on it. State your position and keep it on topic and I will listen. You'll may convince me, I may convince you, or we'll have to agree to disagree. Unless I posted something that was directed at you specifically, you cannot expect to use your own personal sense of offense as a launching pad to attack me personally and think I'll just give you a free pass. 

If the basis of your argument depends on a flaw in my personality, my intelligence, my nationality, my upbringing, my religion, my gender, my profession, etc. (you get the idea), our social media relationship (and maybe our friendship) is now officially in jeopardy. 

This is not to say that you cannot try to call me on White/Male privilege. Playing this card is frustrating to me, but it's not a deal killer. I find this tactic to be an offensive generalization that is sexist and racist by definition, but it's also an ad-hominem way to try and end the discussion. I have rarely seen it applied in a way that actually convinces me to change my position (it has happened, but it's rare). 

Also, bringing your own race/gender into the discussion is not a problem necessarily. I won't shut you out because you say something like "You can't understand because you're not a woman like me!" While it may be true that I cannot appreciate the realities of being a woman, I don't take this as a personal attack. The personal attack version would be "You can't understand because you're just a man and men are just stupid!", but even then, that's just such a weak rebuttal, I would probably just dismiss it as being irrelevant.

If you were really concerned about my personal flaws, you would probably address them with me in person, by phone, or by private message. No friend of mine would use my flaws (whether they valid flaws or perceived flaws) as a weapon to discredit me or my opinion. Nor would my friends use my flaws to make me look foolish or to humiliate me publicly. I don't care if you think this flaw is real, your concern is genuine, or if you only have my best interests at heart. I also don't care if there are many people that are too polite to address this issue with me directly, but they have asked you to be their representative in this matter.

A personal attack would be something like (these are mostly realistic quotes I've received, although I may be paraphrasing at time for context):
"Your parents obviously abused you as a child. If they didn't, maybe they should have."
"You would understand this if you had a real job."
"Everyone knows that you just crave attention and you'll do anything to score points with your posse."

"You would know what to do in this situation if you weren't such a coward."
"Only a a racist bigot who hates women would ever say stuff like you've just said."

If you and I have an established friendship that is based on history of positive, constructive experiences, I can let certain things slide. If I'm really hurt by your statements, I'll address the issue with you directly, give you a chance to explain yourself, and we can come to some kind of mutual understanding. Maybe there's an issue between us that needs to be addressed and this is moment where it flared up. If you and I have a reality-based friendship, I'll give you the benefit of the doubt.

But if we barely know each other, we've only met a couple of times, and we haven't had any real-world experiences together, I am less inclined to take shit from you. If we have invested in each other in some way, I'll honor that investment by following-up. But if you cannot be bothered to take the time to know me outside of social media, don't pretend you can speak on who I was, who I am now, and who I should be if only I had the proper values. I am happy to debate issues with anyone, but if your position requires you to launch into some kind of dime-store psychoanalysis of my "true" feelings on the matter, I'm out.

Some people have commented that I am way too patient with some people. It's true that I sometimes suffer fools gladly because the optimist in me believes that everyone has something to bring to the table. However, as I get older, I've been finding the my patience to suffer these fools is beginning to wane and wear thin.

My friend Rebecca wisely stated that if I have a friendship that is based mostly on aggravation, then it may not be a friendship worth maintaining. I don't enjoy having to unfriend people on Facebook, but when I begin to notice that a social media relationship is dominated by disrespectful chatter or a consistent need to tear me down, it's time to decide that I don't need to include that voice in my conversations.

I'm not sure I really need to expound on this subject at length. It's my Social Media and I don't need to explain of justify it to anyone. But this is the cool thing about writing: it forces you to apply a critical eye to your thoughts and ensure you are making the right decisions for the right reasons. With the unfriendings I've had to do in the past year (some people needed to be Blocked), I would wonder if I was being too harsh in these decisions. Writing this article has proven to me that it was what I had to do.

I'm hoping that these decisions can be respected, but since the people I had to unfriend were being disrespectful in the first place, I doubt that they will. Hopefully, the rest of you can understand. If you want to discuss it, please leave a comment!