Friday, March 26, 2010

Facebook, Family, and Politics.

I have a Facebook page which I use periodically, primarily to stay in touch with extended family, out of town friends, and classmates from college. My immediate family is spread across the country and it is nice to see the occasional picture and update on my Facebook page, although none of us are active Facebook users. I am struck as I see this collection of people with a connection to me gathered together on one page and catch a glimpse into their lives and discover facets of their personalities that I might never have discovered had it not been for Facebook. Were all my "friends" to friend (and isn't it amazing that friend has now become a verb?) each other, the Tea Parties of August would be nothing compared to the excitement of my own Facebook page.

I am fascinated by those who seek to gather new friends to their Facebook pages. Some are very protective - with reason in many cases - and are very careful how they use their Facebook page and who they allow to be their "friend." Others friend indiscriminately and accept every suggested friend that comes along. If someone is a friend of someone already on your Friend List, than it makes sense - some say - to friend them yourself. If they are a friend of your friend, then of course they will be a friend of yours. Right? That is what I am finding fascinating about my Facebook page.

It is important that we not insulate ourselves from new ideas and experiences and I have often argued with those who limit themselves to one information source and call themselves informed, but at the same time, there are some places where you do not want to be exposed to ideas and comments you find offensive or just irritating. On Facebook, if you want to debate ideas, you can join a group or become a fan of an organization and engage in debate to your heart's content. There are polls (usually ridiculously worded so that there is no logical answer possible) and quizzes, but for me at least, and many of my friends and family, Facebook is where we go periodically to touch base, find out what's up, and post a picture or video clip, but keep it mellow and friendly. Sort of like family dinner: you may not all agree, but you leave the arguments for later.

But, there's always that one aunt, or cousin, or wacky friend who has a different idea. The one who whenever they post a video clip or comment, your blood pressure rises and you have to bite your tongue not to fire back, because if you did, the next actual family dinner would be civil war and the phone lines would be burning. And it's fascinating, because if they could see all the pages of all the people on my friend list, not just the list itself, their vision of me and my world - which they imagine to be the same as their world - would implode.

Some in my extended family want America to return to "the good old days" and wave the Constitution (and attend Tea Parties), not really understanding what they're talking about. They post comments and video clips and make comments about current events assuming that everyone reading their Facebook page - read their entire Friend List - will appreciate (agree with) what they have to say. Sometimes their posts will go unnoticed, sometimes someone will "Like" it by giving it a thumbs up, and sometimes someone will offer a comment, which often is the impetus for others to comment as well.

Have you ever noticed that once someone has commented on a post, others are more likely to join in the comment thread? It's just like the buffet line, nobody wants to be first.

My sister and I are becoming friends on Facebook. Not that we weren't before, just that Facebook has given us a vehicle to touch base more frequently and connect in a way that is new to us. We are finding that we frequently support the same organizations, agree on the same issues, and find common cause when we are mutually appalled by something that a much-loved aunt or favorite cousin posts on their page and we realize that these people we call family are people that we do not know at all and if we were to get to know them as people, would not like. At all.

My sister has tried to engage, with spectacular failure. Some relatives pretend the conflict does not exist, while with others she finally had to de-friend them to avoid material she found offensive appearing on her homepage. I still ponder what to do, though for the moment, I simply move on past.

My friend list includes atheists, traditional Christians, Jews, others who I'm sure have a religion but don't advertise the fact, and proselytizing evangelicals. I've got liberals, conservatives, and fans of Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin. The member of the "In Defense of Marriage" group might post right next to my transgendered cousin or his husband. My updates from the Equal Justice Initiative or the ACLU showed up one time next to a video clip my cousin posted about Eugenics that Glenn Beck  circulated to prove that the government wants into health care so as to develop a DNA profile on every American and eventually decide who gets to reproduce (she wanted to ensure that we knew what our government was doing). Social networking indeed. A favorite cousin commented - when President Obama took to the road to campaign for health care reform - that he should go back to the Oval Office and do the job that we paid him to do, somehow equating work with sitting behind his desk. I had to sit on my hands not to remind her of the 1/3 of his presidency that Bush spent in Texas on vacation.

What do you think? Engagement at the micro level? I've wanted and tried to keep politics off my Facebook page - I am after all job hunting! - although the groups that I belong to post updates to my page - but what is the purpose of posting comments about the President, health care reform, or video clips about controversial issues knowing that at least some of the people seeing them will be upset by them? Do you engage? Take the bait? Refuse to allow them to get to you knowing that nothing you say will change their mind? Or are they even trying to get a rise out of you or simply ignorant of the reaction they cause? Are followers of Glenn Beck even likely to be willing to listen? As a sociologist, I am fascinated by the effect of social networking on the family and other friend groups (how many adult children panic when Mom sends a friend request?). What do you think?

Thanks for stopping by. Come back soon.

1 comment:

  1. i basically take a deep breath and hope that they'll eventually understand what's really going on in the world and not depend on beck, palin, hannity, or rush for all their news...

    it's usually a vain hope, but it's one that i protect by not going to facebook that often.