Saturday, February 9, 2013

The Power of Words, and How Not to Abuse Them on Facebook

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Facebook logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As writers in the modern world, we are often encouraged to make ourselves known on social media outlets such as Facebook, so we can build a following, inform potential readers or our work, and “be relatable” (a necessary ingredient for building a following, it seems).  

All well and good, but there are some things writers and non-writers alike should avoid posting, even on Facebook.

Facebook, valuable sociological experiment as it is, can be virtual ground for vitriol.  Posters can say anything they like—and if it disparages politicians, those with different views, or religious organizations, so much, it seems, the better. 

After all, certain individuals and organizations lend themselves easily to mockery.

But before you go blasting away at your favorite target, ask yourself two simple questions: Would you say the same thing at a party filled with strangers or acquaintances, and how would you feel if someone you admired were subjected to similar attacks?

“But it’s just my opinion.”

A frequent defense for posting attacks is that the user is simply stating his or her opinion. The underlying assumption is that an opinion is basically harmless. But is this really so?  

Next time you post an attack on someone, delete that person's name and type in your own before you hit "post." How do you feel now about the post being made public?

Opinions carry weight. If you repeat something often enough, you run the risk of others thinking you know what you're talking about.

Besides, what often passes for opinion on Facebook is not well-thought out points of view but memes —those clever pictures with captions started by someone and so easily "shared" by the rest of us. 

I admit I’ve shared memes, too. Memes can be clever or funny ways of making a point. 

And there’s nothing wrong with creating memes or sharing them, unless the sole purpose for doing so is to ridicule someone or present something in a simplistic or distorted light.

Awhile back, one of the memes making its rounds on Facebook showed an image of Abraham Lincoln and featured a quote from him: “That I am not a member of any Christian church is true.” On the surface, there’s nothing wrong with this. Lincoln did say those words. But the meme presented them out of context and left it up to the reader to guess what Lincoln (and the person sharing the meme) meant. 

What are we supposed to take from Lincoln’s statement? That because he did not belong to a Christian church, we shouldn’t either? That Christianity is bad? The meme carries an air or authority behind it, but, by being purposely vague, it invites us to read into it anything we want.  

(For the record, Lincoln’s beliefs were mysterious and open to scholarly debate.)

Do you even know what that word means?

Another frequent form of attack is aimed at President Obama. Actually, FB is not alone in this. Media pundits who oppose Obama are fond of calling him a socialist or claiming that the United States is becoming more socialist under his administration. While Obama, like any politician, merits criticism on any number of fronts, socialism isn’t one of them.

People who hurl the “S” word often don’t know what it, in fact, means.  Rather, they use it as a scare tactic, as “Communist” once was used.

Furthermore, they seem oblivious to the fact that the U.S. already has policies which emphasize that “individuals do not live and work in isolation but live in cooperation with one another." You may have heard of Medicare, income tax, or even the U.S. military.

Yet some portray socialism as inherently bad and Obama as an evil man for foisting it upon us. If that is what you truly believe, fine. But please keep it to yourself.

(And, just to be fair, similar attacks on Republicans are no less execrable.)

Lighting a match

Opinions are wonderful. Everybody has them. And there’s nothing wrong with expressing yours on Facebook, but please do so responsibly.

My former uncle used to have a saying, which I will present in cleaned-up form: Opinions are like that part of your body which leaves behind solid waste—everyone has such an anatomical feature. 

To this, I add: No one likes it when you pass gas in public, and, if you do, don’t be surprised when someone else lights a match.

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Unknown said...

This is a serious issue I've noticed myself Greg. The spread of mis-information is rampant of facebook and has been driving me up the wall (pardon the pun) for quite a while. Try to correct the errors in the comment sections with actual facts and you get shouted down or ignored because you don't fit with some pre-conveived bias. Lately I've just taken to responding to such posts with totally idiotic responses from the opposite extreme viewpoint.

Greg Gildersleeve said...

It's always hard to know how to respond or if to respond at all, Virie. The best we can do is state our case and hope it gets someone to reconsider how he or she posts

Kristin McTiernan said...

I have found that to be an unfortunate truth: the highest number of hits often comes to those who say vile things. It might be tempting to think "Oh I'll just post something controversial once to get people to come to my website." But I think the cost of doing that outweighs the gain.

Greg Gildersleeve said...

That's an interesting point, Kristin. If all a person wants is attention, it's not hard to get. I think many times people are just not aware of how their "opinion" is received, or of the effect their words can have on others.

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