37) Facebook, Fake-News, and Friends
I am the resisting sort, a non-conformist, and a skeptic of well — Everything. I read widely and deeply. I try to have an open mind. Like many Americans in the historic months leading up to the election of 2016, which felt like an excruciatingly long and painful bowel movement, I watched the news constantly. I read a broad width of news articles, online and in print as if my life depended on it, and everything I was doing in my life outside of work took a backseat. I listened in full, to the candidates running for President of the United States of America and what they had to offer. As a citizen of my country, I felt an extreme obligation more so than ever before to be actively engaged and aware.
With that, I must tell you; I had several existential crises’ in the months leading up to the election. I lost hope several times and plunged into darkness, and when I came out, my social media friends were there. They inspired me and encouraged me and I felt an obligation to them to continue posting the best information I could. If I could not verify it I wouldn’t post it and I think my friends relied on me and so I continued to fight with information and thoughts and hope and encouraging words.
My motivation was that I was very worried. Worried that there were things at play I didn’t understand completely. Worried that the news may be somewhat tainted and the sources I grew to trust were not telling me everything I needed to know. I was worried that sensationalism and speculation was overriding fact based reporting. Worried that American citizens were not reading the same base information, not scrutinizing every post in their social media feed, and I found myself defending authoritative sources against fake news sources.
…I found myself defending authoritative sources against fake news sources.
In the pre-digital days, it was easier to pinpoint fake news. In that time, most people knew that the trustworthy news with the best sources were on a separate aisle next the stationary and Hallmark cards. You could pick up a National Geographic, Scientific American, Popular Mechanics, The Atlantic, Newsweek, Time Magazine (thicker in content back then) and a plethora of well-researched feature articles and thoughtful opinion pieces. One could spend an hour reading and feel reasonably satisfied, up-to-date with the barometer of world news. You could get this news at any grocery store or convenience store. The important news was widely available and heavily stocked. Only at the checkout stand, were the sensational kitsch rags, which everyone might pick up while waiting to chuckle at ‘Bat Boy’ or the most recent Elvis sighting. Only your crazy conspiracy-theorist uncle would think that some legitimate stories were buried in a copy of The National Enquirer or Star. The majority of us knew better and it was obvious.
On Facebook, I received a flood of reactionary comments to my legitimate sources. I tried my best to sort out and clarify for them and myself, responding to everyone and encouraging them to continue the conversation. I was both thrilled to the challenge of debate, but stunned that so many people posted things unedited with irrational and poorly thought out responses. Worse, I tried to engage them to find facts/articles to back up their positions. The few who did post a reference article, referenced an obscure Canadian post from a single blogger with pixilated images or the one video of Barack Obama reading a book with a sexual reference that was supposed to cancel out the years of voluminous blatant sexual misogyny of Trump.
In particular, there was one Facebook encounter that brought out many things. His name was Dennis and through him, I found my archenemy to do battle with. He was relentless in his comments and so was I. It went on like this for several weeks. There were a few moments we agreed and I felt a welling up inside that perhaps we could reach across the brain matter and connect and we did on some levels. We shared some very personal things in private messages as he was from my same hometown and both of our grandparents knew each other. We had history in common that we shared privately, and heatedly debated our politics in public.
I learned a lot through this exchange. I learned that there are times to be vocal and learn from one another’s differing opinions and when to discontinue the dialogue to save your own sanity. I felt that we were engaging in the very thing that would make the founding fathers proud – civil discourse. As Christmas was looming, I felt that our discourse was beginning to sour and I felt angry as our discussion turned to women’s issues. This is where I had to let him go. I first restricted his access as a friend hoping that if he didn’t see my ‘friends only’ posts that we could stay in contact. He then started commenting on every single thing that I liked, not commented on, but merely liked. Instead of rabble rousing on my posts, he was now invading my friends’ pages of who unwittingly made the mistake of posting publicly. I had had enough. I allowed Dennis into my house and he invaded every room. I told him in a private message that we were done. I wish him well, but sometimes you have to shut out, Unfriend, detach, and let go the people in your life if they are depressing your soul.
Blue words are good in private for letting off steam, but are ineffective in conveying an important idea to an opposing viewpoint.
I tried my best. I wanted to change minds by keeping my language tame, respectful, and based in fact to the best of my ability. Blue words are good in private for letting off steam, but are ineffective in conveying an important idea to an opposing viewpoint. I give Obama credit as setting an example of profound civil discourse, as he stayed poised and respectful and tempered throughout his presidency on the level that matters to the American people. I think the majority of Americans, regardless of politics, can agree that Obama is inspiring and smart and capable of uniting the people even if they don’t like his policy stances or the color of his skin.
I think of Dennis often, as we approach the inauguration of the 45th President on January 20th. I wonder what he thinks of Trump’s Tweets, the investigations into Russian interference of the election, and the recent polls that show a majority of Americans uncertain of a Trump presidency. I know that Dennis is a lonely old man who seeks out political storms on Facebook for company in the middle of the night, and I, a lonely middle-aged woman seeking facts on Facebook in the middle of the night. I’m not sure how things will turn out. Trump is addicted to his Twitter account showing the American people more and more that he is strange and this is not normal.
As I write this, nothing feels right, or good, or hopeful. Yet, I hope that we will be okay. I hope that democracy stays intact. I hope that there are enough people who will do the right thing, whatever and whenever that may be. I hope that one day I can talk to Dennis again and share the history of our grandparents and that this whole experience will make us better people.
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