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!


  1. Right there with you Hobbes. I haven't had to unfriend too many people over the years, though I did once choose to block someone to drive home a point. Some people are a bit too willing to cut others off for minor slights, but you have never struck me as one of them.

  2. Social media, blogs, journals, all exist to serve the purpose of the user. Each of us users has different needs, and it is our right to tailor each outlet to our use. In this basic premise, your Facebook is your own space, and you invite others into it. One would hope guests to your space would be respectful of it, and you, and your other guests. If not, you are the host, and you can decide what is acceptable in your blog space, and communicate that to others. This particular post makes a good disclaimer to dissimulate to your guests - a treatise on the behaviour you expect in your blog and your discussions.

    Sometimes it's not even that. If a particular person is causing some jagged nerves, I believe it's justified for you to bar them from your blog or journal, to create "safe space" for yourself which is free of the disharmony that might happen with specific individuals. Once one's nerves have been soothed and they no longer jar your mindset or space, they can always be welcomed back. I try to understand this concept when people need space from me - it's not a closed door, it's just some space, and we all need that at one time or other.

  3. Think for yourselves and let others enjoy the privilege to do so too.Voltaire, Essay on Tolerance
    French author, humanist, rationalist, & satirist (1694 - 1778)

  4. Facebook is social media; social MEDIA. It isn't real life communication and connection, therefore, people have far less to lose or so they assume. There is something about the keyboard that seems to imbue people with a sense of power and immunity from fall-out. Sometimes folks are more inclined to speak their mind through their keyboard forgetting the pen is mightier than the sword and far more wounding. It is a new medium of communication and hopefully, we will learn to adapt but in the meantime, there will be consequences when this added freedom is abused.

    Hobbes, you and I spar, we hold very different opinions and although both of us have been online for decades, back to the BBS days, even we forget, the power of the word.

    Patience is required when dealing with people who may not be all that savvy when it comes to the global reality that is the internet. Your Facebook is like your living room, if someone behaves in a manner that is insulting or degrading to you, then it is time to ask them to park their bee-hinds on someone else's sofa ;) On the other hand, certain topics are like dynamite and explosions should be expected.

    Just one of life's conundrums, Hobbes; you do what is best for you, for your peace of mind and let others do what is best for them. If blocking or unfriending is the best choice, then so be it. Do the deed and move on.