Constructing Reality and Debate on Facebook

In college, I spent four years hearing that what we often take for granted was a construct.  “Race is a construct.” “Gender is a construct.” And so forth and so on.  From here, it isn’t such a big leap to say that all of reality is a construct  – that we create and impose structure where perhaps there isn’t one to begin with.  As Michael Dorris writes in his article “The Myth of Justice”, there is no rhyme or reason for the way things are, no grand plan, no inherent and inevitable justice.  We’re really just living through chaos.

But then there is Facebook.  A new world order.  A way to fill your days with meaning or frivolity, take your pick.  If life is merely a construct, then the identity we project on Facebook is no less of one.  I know people post all kinds of things on Facebook, but I would say overall we are Shiny Happy People.  The tough stuff of life rarely comes up, but of course it’s fine when it does.  We all have different identities, naturally, but I think in Facebook we create them pretty carefully.

In Claire Cain Miller’s article in the NY Times, “How Social Media Silences Debate,” she writes about a study that found that social media has lessened rather than enhanced political discussions and participation.  “Social media like Twitter and Facebook . . .makes people less likely to voice opinions, particularly when they think their views differ from those of their friends,” according to researchers at Pew Research Center and Rutgers University.  I can well imagine that if I were a Republican I would not want to share my views on an overwhelmingly liberal Facebook page.

Recently I met a woman who said that her Facebook has lots of people from her childhood, and that they tend to have stridently conservative views that differ completely from her own.  She said she does not engage them in debate, even if what they say is sometimes very offensive.  She said that she keeps to neutral topics, like sharing pictures of children and pets.

At first I was highly critical of her for not saying something to these people she disagreed with.  But now I’m not so sure.  Our society is drowning in opinions.  Do we need anymore?  Of course, offering your opinion is different from being able to defend it in a debate.  But even in debate, I think we already have plenty of that, if you’re into that kind of talking heads thing on news channels.  Talk, as they say, is cheap.

Frankly, I don’t want a lot of debate on my Facebook page.  I want to hear about people’s lives – the good and the bad.  But if anyone spouts what I would define as hateful speech, then no, I don’t want to see it on any given day.  Is that so wrong?

I do think that people need to learn how to address hateful opinions, but it may have more meaning in person than on Facebook or Twitter.  But then I know I’m a bit of a hypocrite, because there are plenty of people who differ in their political views at my workplace, and I’m not engaging them either.  I guess I’m afraid of hurting their feelings, or starting something that will quickly become nasty and something I can’t stop.  No one wants a fractious workplace.  So, as usual, I’m torn.  What do you think?