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August 15, 2016

Divisive Political Season Causing Mass Unfriending on FaceBook

Well, this is obvious. I've unfollowed or even blocked people I used to consider allies, and I've gotten the same. Even the blog's roster has been hit by this incredible divisive season.

That's really a sad thing.

Some friends don't let friends talk politics anymore on Facebook.

Others are on "unfriending" sprees...


"I've seen that myself increasingly," said Scott Talan, an American University communication teacher who studies social media and politics. "They range from pretty harsh, graphically laced, attacks upon people ... to statements of 'if you support this person, you can no longer be my friend.'"

Talan says the popularity and ease of use on Facebook combined with two candidates with remarkably high negative ratings among voters fuel "very visceral" debates that go to people's strong personal values and identity.

One big downside of social media is that it's a very brief medium -- and while brevity may be the soul of wit, brevity is in an argument is just basically "You're wrong, I don't like you."

Twitter is 140 characters and while I don't think there's a particular limit on the length of a FaceBook post, the medium seems to encourage brevity.

When you drain out the nuance and factual presentation of an argument -- that is, you take the essay out of an essay -- what are you left with? You're left with an unsupported assertion and a disparagment of anyone disagreeing with it.

I blocked a fella a few weeks back. Whatever I said on Twitter, he contradicted. He did not argue against what I said; he just said I was wrong. Just a pure contradiction, no reasoning or justification provided.

When I told him I was going to block him if he kept this mechanical, thoughtless algorithm up -- if he was going to just keep saying "Nuh-uh" to anything I said -- he instructed me that I just couldn't take it that he was "refuting" me.

Refuting? "Nuh-uh" isn't a refutation. It's not even an adult word.

I've mentioned Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neal Postman a lot. It's very relevant to our age. He notes Marshall MacLuhan's aphorism about TV -- "The medium is the message" -- and explores it.

Every medium has a certain type of message it's good at delivering, and other types of messages it's not good at delivering. Thus, every medium has an implicit bias towards certain styles of messaging -- the medium itself has embedded within it a "message" about what types of messages are important.

In the TV age, we moved away from consuming written reports and written analyses -- essays and such -- in favor of moving pictures and stories structured like a Hollywood mini-feature, stories with an Emotional Arc and of course clear Heroes and Villains.

The internet age has brought us a medium with a bias towards even more gutteral, visceral messaging. Social media encourage short, punchy messages, and by punchy, I mean people are trying to punch each other with words. The medium has a bias towards stridency and absolutism, because you really can't include too much nuance and caveat in 140 characters.

It also has a strong bias towards anger, because, as far as short missives go, "Go fuck yourself" has the virtue of being brief, direct, and very easy to write.

Much easier to write a bunch of fuck yous to strangers than compose an article explaining your beliefs or the defects of the claims of those you disagree with.

And a lazy medium thereby encourages lazy thinking.

I kind of think anything important one has to say should be said in person. If you're going to break up with someone, it should be in person.

If you're going to tell someone you'll never speak to him again because he supports a candidate you don't like, you should probably man up to deliver that message in person, too.

If you have the guts. But that's hard. Much easier just to rip someone in a 140 character Sick Burn.


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posted by Ace at 06:41 PM

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