By Lindsay Steele
I have enjoyed using Facebook to share photos and keep in touch with family and friends. It has been a happy diversion, for the most part.
Now, whenever I log in, my feed is filled with posts and memes which reduce people to litigious stereotypes.
This narrow rhetoric has always been there to some degree, but it seems much more prevalent now. There are a lot of changes going on in the government and people are reacting according to their beliefs. Obviously, some people are uncomfortable with President Trump’s actions and decisions and, since they can’t directly confront the president, they choose to blame or attack their conservative friends for voting for him. Conservatives have found themselves not just jumping to President Trump’s defense, but their own. It’s turned into a firestorm on both sides.
As The Catholic Messenger’s unofficial social media guru, I maintain our page and do my best to keep up with our parish and school contacts there. But when it comes to my personal page, I’ve had to step away from the battleground, at least for now. I was getting overwhelmed and having a hard time holding my tongue.
It would be nice if people could politely disagree, have constructive debates and remember that the person with whom they are speaking is more than just their opinions. Sometimes that does happen. But Facebook makes it very easy to forget about the other person. They just become words. It’s a lot easier to be disrespectful when you aren’t looking that person in the eye. It’s why cyber-bullying is such a problem, and I daresay that some of the dialogue I see among adults could be categorized as such.
A lot of people I know seem to be reassessing their presence on Facebook, too, for a variety of reasons. One of my coworkers recently decided to limit her Facebook to only her immediate family. That way, she could see pictures of her grandchildren but block the contentious side of Facebook. Seminarian Johnny Blauw recently came to the conclusion that he spends too much time on Facebook; he decided to devote more time to his studies and spiritual life.
Voices and advocacy have their place on Facebook, no doubt, and are essential to democracy. However, I urge those who use Facebook in this way to consider the feelings of others whenever possible. Not everyone will like your opinions, of course, and sometimes people will fight back no matter how nice you are. But, before you post or reply to something, ask yourself the following questions: Is the statement I am about to post a generalization or a stereotype? Am I trying to educate people, or am I trying to attack those who disagree with my beliefs? Are my comments diplomatic and respectful, or am I throwing around insults?
If you’ve felt insulted, I know it is easy to want to fight back. But it’ll never get better until people stop attacking and start talking. Better yet, pray for those with whom you disagree, and pray for the ability to love them even when it seems difficult. These are some of the things I’ll be working on during my Facebook sabbatical.
(Editor’s note: Lindsay Steele is a reporter for The Catholic Messenger. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (563) 888-4248.)