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Fickle Facebook friends

Note: I wrote this months ago, so the time references are way off (like someone’s concerned about timeliness… here of all places).

I was a social networking snob. At one time I had a blog, a web site, and all of it ran on a web server under my desk. I had Internet cred, and Facebook was beneath me.

Like everyone else, I didn’t get Twitter.

About a year ago I was talked into Facebook at an Obama event in Dunedin. “We’ll post all of our pictures there,” they said. “Facebook is cool. You’ll be hooked.” So I signed up.

A few days later I got my first friend request – someone who allegedly went to high school with me.

“Cheryl, do you remember a — —- from high school?”

“Um, yeah. I think she was a cheerleader and our class vice president.”

“Why on earth do you think she’d want to be my friend on Facebook?”

“Wait. Back up. Why would YOU want to join Facebook? When did this happen?”

Apparently I wasn’t the only snob in the house.

“I give. I’m weak. I gave in to peer pressure – and they weren’t even really peers – just a bunch of people I met at the Obama thing. Well, I suppose they were dictionary peers, but not my idea of peers. You know what I mean?”

“No John, I really don’t.”

Long story not too long, my prospective Facebook friend was helping plan our 20th high school reunion. I was new to the Facebook scene, and a little vulnerable, so I accepted. (Alright, I was vulnerable long before Facebook. Sue me.) I didn’t think we’d ever spoken to each other, and I knew we weren’t pen palls. I didn’t remeber her from any of my classes, though I’ve repressed most of those memories. Yet, through the miracle of social networking, we were Facebook friends.

Time passed. I voted for Obama. She almost certainly didn’t (more on that later). I had no intention of reliving my adolecent nightmares at a reunion. She posted lots of pictures with spirited captions. She’d been a popular kid. I was something, but it wasn’t popular. Dear Lord, who was this person? Shortly afterwards I ignored Facebook altogether (for a time). The hook hadn’t set.

Two people. Never met (I think). Never exchanged words (spoken or typed). Seemingly nothing in common but a brief bout of geography.

Facebook friends.

A few weeks ago depression eased off a bit and I caught up on the news. I left the house for something other than work. I checked Facebook to see what my friends were up to.

With a little curiosity, plus a pinch of boredom, I looked up that first Facebook friend. What I found was a wall full of political cartoons, jokes, and a pinch of right-wingnut hysteria; all railing against one of my passions: universal health care.

I was feeling frisky. My dander was tingling. The social courage I felt during the election returned. I was ready for a debate, even if I stood little chance of changing anyone’s mind. I had to comment, my fragile ego be damned. I picked the entry with the biggest choir and made my move.

I don’t know if I succeeded, but I tried to be civil. I thought I was arguing with reason and logic, facts and statistics. I made innocent/benign analogies. I made what I thought were reasonable points. They rallied – but not around me. Honestly, I don’t know if I drew first blood, but someone made it personal. One person called poor form. Another questioned my integrity, extolled the virtues of individualism, self-reliance and the boot-strap, implied collectivism in any form was the work of Satan, and suggested if I thought universal health care was so great, I should just move and leave everyone else alone.

I took exception to the moving bit, and said so. Still, I thought I was calm – reasonable. But maybe I wasn’t. Everyone got mad. I was told the move/leave comment was an honest suggestion, not an attack, I was essentially an idiot for thinking it was… and I took exception with THAT too.

Go figure. I’m odd that way.

Am I the only one who finds this kind of “suggestion” offensive? Am I the only one who finds an implicit “love it or leave it” message between the lines, implying I don’t love it? Am I the only one who finds it dismissive? Am I imagining an undertone of “we don’t want your kind here?”

And poor form? Can a guy get a collective: huh? Is it poor form to suggest social change conceived honestly, charitably, without malice, and dog gone it – just the right thing to do? I may not be right, and I gladly debate that point – but poor form?

Some of what follows is very similar to a post one of my favorite bloggers put up recently, only his was much better.

I felt like I wasn’t in it deep enough, so I set out to set mouths a foaming. I told them they were all collectivists. I don’t recall if I used these exact words, but I said something like this: “If not, then I expect you’d never drive on public roads, use public utilities, eat anything made out of corn, fly on planes that rely on the FAA to direct them, call 911 when you’re in trouble, engage in risk sharing via private insurance, support any intervention, under any circumstances, by a publicly funded military, use public libraries, beaches, or parks, or rely on others to monitor your water/air supply to make sure no one’s poluting it or poisoning you.”

I’ll say it again (because it makes me feel smart to use big words): everyone living in this country is a collectivist, to some degree.

At one point I had been accused of unfairly assuming one of the commenters was a Republican – though I don’t recall even using the word, let alone resorting to name calling. I got a little mushy and continued: “If I’ve made inaccurate assumptions, I appologize. I meant no offense. But when you’re trading short messages, with people you don’t know, it’s hard not to make certain assumptions based on what you say. I haven’t come out and said I’m a Democrat, but I’ll wager you’ve assumed I am one based on my stated beliefs.”

I might as well have set myself on fire and saved everyone the trouble. The next morning I was notified by email that another person had commented, once again acusing me unfounded/unfair/insulting assumptions, and self-evident deficiencies in logic conveniently wrapped in a single word rebuttal: socialist. I went online to read it again, to see where I’d gone so wrong, only to find I couldn’t. I’d been de-friended. I was in fact no longer welcome.

In an odd way, I hope I was an insufferable ass. Not because it gives me some sense of retaliation after the fact, but because I don’t want to believe the alternative: people are so closed to opposing viewpoints they huddle in little shelters, protected by a cocoon of agreement. I don’t want to believe we’re a society addicted to ideological insulation.

As for myself, I’m a little too comfortable in the cozy confines of my cocoon of naiveté. So make my day. Tell me I’m a stupid prick.

Oh, I know. There are other, less cynical possibilities. Maybe I broke a generally understood rule of social networking (by everyone but socially awkward me): thou shalt not argue on Facebook. Or I might not be right on this one, let alone persuasive. And then there’s the obvious: people don’t agree on everything. It’d be pretty dull if we did.

Then again, she did put all that political stuff up. You gotta expect a little dust-up when you talk political smack, right?

I know it’s not true for everyone, but I sense a pattern: folks get more cynical with age. I worry there’s good reason for it. Reading the news the last few months – about angry healthcare town hall mobs highjacking civil discourse, roving bands of bloodthirsty liberals hell bent on lowering the median age in this country, and the creeping influence of Satan in government (a place where I work) – hasn’t helped.

I don’t think I’m a pawn of Satan. Maybe I should re-read my position description and contract.

3 Comments

  1. My hero! Really.

    The funniest thing that is I’m certain that should some form of universal health care ever be passed, Americans would love it. In five to 10 years, every politician — of every stripe — would be trying to take credit for it.

Give the gift of words.