When Good Facebook Friends Go Bad

Mark Radcliffe ponders the right way to respond to a Facebook friend whose politics he finds offensive.

If you’re on Facebook long enough, sooner or later it happens:

You post something perhaps to make a point about an issue you feel strongly about, and suddenly a friend you thought you knew turns out to completely disagree with you.

And not just that, but reveals what seems to be a frighteningly provincial perspective on the matter.

Suddenly you’ve got a dilemma on your hands:

Do you engage? Do you challenge this person’s argument to stand your moral ground and risk upsetting your friendship? Is taking a stand worth losing a friend over?

Perhaps, it occurred to me. Especially when the “friend’s” viewpoint is tantamount to discrimination.

Now, posting political subject matter on Facebook is something I generally steer clear of, since I’m aware it’s divisive territory. I’m not a terribly political person, though I am liberal. But on this issue, I felt I had to say something.

What was the issue, you ask? I almost hesitate to say, because in a sense, it’s somewhat incidental to my overall point: we all have certain views we hold sacred, that if someone were to not also embrace them, we might have to part ways. Especially if their differing view is akin to discrimination.

But, for the sake of clarity, the issue was over gay-rights. I posted a video of Kirk Cameron’s where he uses his religious beliefs to prop up his denouncement of homosexuals. I’m a straight man, but work in the arts, and have hundreds of gay friends I admire and love (who often live much more honest and virtuous lives than many of my hetero friends), and I believe you’re free to love whomever you want, so long as you’re not interfering with the happiness of others. As a musician and writer, I have a lot of Facebook friends now. But the vast majority are in the arts, too, and live in cities like LA, NYC, Boston, SF, Seattle and Portland. And big cities are liberal, generally supporting gay rights. I figured there weren’t a whole lot of my friends who’d differ. I knew there’d be some, but wasn’t sure any would publicly take issue with me. I was clearly wrong. The differing person in this case—we’ll call her “Laura” (not her real name)—vehemently disagreed with me, pointing to scripture condemning homosexuality and going on at length about the path “God our creator” has intended for us all to live. I found it objectionable on about five thousand levels.

As you can imagine, it set off a firestorm of responses from my like-minded friends.

Again, my issue here is not set up another debate about gay rights or religion or interpretations of the bible. It’s about how a simple question: how does someone who’s trying to live a virtuous life person react when they are confronted with a friend’s belief system that they find offensive? The line’s different for all of us, but we all cross it.

The dilemma here was in part due to the fact that “Laura” was a huge fan of my music. She had supported it with all her heart. Though we’d never met, she’d been a “good friend” on Facebook, always friendly, supportive. I only knew her because she happened to recently marry a guy I’d known for years. I wanted to stand my ground, I also knew I could also be picking a fight with her husband, too, whom I would be surprised to know was anti-gay, but you never know. Tricky territory, but hey, I got myself into it.

The “safe” thing to do would be to just pull down the entire post and video, and pretend it all never even happened. It’s a move I’ve done before a few times.

But I didn’t want to here.

And before I even had time to respond, a number of my friends came out swinging—poking holes in her selective use of scripture to prop up certain views while ignoring others, and they verged on outright insulting her for even believing in God.

It all went a little further than I’d intended. But she came right back swinging, insisting how “lost” we all clearly were. So I let the fight go on since she wasn’t backing down.

Eventually I added my own retort, supporting her right to believe whatever she wants to, but added a few points about how the bible also treats women as second-class citizens (not to “speak in church”) and frowns on other behaviors that she probably engages in every day, and that people should be judged on character, not sexual orientation.

Did I succeed in changing her mind? Of course not.

She perhaps even now thinks less of me as a friend for knowing that I don’t share her views that homosexuality is a sin.

Maybe she won’t buy my next album. I can live with that.

But the question remains: do I “stay friends” with this person?

For now, I am, surprisingly. The old me would have un-friended her instantly. I would have tried to “teach her a lesson”—that espousing certain discriminatory beliefs will cost you the friendship of others.

But I think now perhaps more good might come of it by me keeping her in my life. My feeling is: there probably aren’t many people in her life who confront her belief system, who might persuade her to adopt a more modern and respectful view of lifestyles that don’t completely mirror her own. I’m erring on the side of open discussion for now.

Maybe some good can come of it, maybe I’m just being a fool.

But I’m willing to try.

How about you? What do you do?

 

For more on Kirk Cameron, read Nicole Johnson’s “Kirk Cameron Outs Himself As a Homophobe”

 

Photo courtesy of Baddog_

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About Mark Radcliffe

Mark Radcliffe is a writer living in New York City. He has a weakness for bourbon, jazz and girls who can drive stick. You can read more of his essays here: www.theradcliffescrolls.tumblr.com and http://markradcliffe.com.

Comments

  1. The Bad Man says:

    Oh yeah, facebook sucks.

    There’s not much you can do to change other people’s opinions, but you can have a little fun before you unfriend them. Even quoting facts pisses most people off.

  2. Jasmine says:

    I have had some rather heated debates with my friends on Facebook (to the point where I’ve been defriended a number of times), but I tend to be an opinionated person. And I do post political stuff on my Facebook (that can get pretty volatile). Although I’ve been defriended a time or two, I don’t do the defriending. Like you, I think that sometimes people with differing views are important to keep in our (Facebook) lives. I might not change their mind, but I might perhaps succeed in shifting, ever-so-slightly, their discriminatory views, and that’s a success in my mind. And even if that doesn’t occur, I like to have people whose views differ from mine to provide me with perspectives of the world that I don’t see… even if to just know that they’re out there and what it is I’m working against in the goal toward equality. :)

  3. I have had three facebook arguments with one of my former coworkers. I had thought we were pretty good friends, but I recently unfriended him after our latest “debate”.

    The last two debates were focused on feminism. In the first debate, he told me that there was only type of feminism (militant) and that all feminists were manhaters. The second debate started with him posting a video by TheHappyMisogynist about how women’s oppression was a myth. Both times he refused to even try to see my point and refused to acknowledge even simple truths.

    I had weathered through the first two debates, but I couldn’t handle it any longer. I cannot, in good conscience, continue to be friends with someone who is that ignorant, narrow-minded, and sexist. I gave it a try, but the third time was just too much.

  4. Richard Aubrey says:

    Then don’t discuss politics. The problem is whether your view of the person has changed so that you think you shouldn’t associate with her at all.

  5. My moment of truth was the Occupy movement and photos of me holding various signs. There are people who never knew I was critical of capitalism, since I have worked in retail. They were shocked and stunned, one of these people disrupted every thread for about a week and I just had to de-friend him. He didn’t want a reasonable discussion and just kept insulting everyone who disagreed: old school southern defense of capitalism as, well, close to godliness, of course.

    It was very primitive. I guess I knew that about him, but figured he could keep his mouth shut (as I do, when my Christian friends have their sentimental “Now Whitney is In Heaven” threads). In the end, he just seemed to find our beliefs an all-out assault on decency that he simply couldn’t ignore.

    (sigh) I liked him, wish we could have stayed friends. He was the disruptive one, though, and my pleas to him went unanswered. Truly, I wish I could have solved this another way.

  6. Prior to the existence of Facebook and prior to my 20th HS reunion, everyone got on yahoo groups via e-mail…..it was so great catching up long lost people and going through that time warp….and then the political debates started….there were flame wars….people who were very born again Christian locking horns with liberals …and back and forth….pro-Israel….anti-Israel….some people were very inflammatory with some of their comments (anti-gay vs. tolerance) until almost everyone got so pissed off, that some people almost did not want to come to HS reunion! Finally, the peacemakers of the group said we should all agree to disagree (and break into smaller sub-groups on yahoo groups (meaning without the flamers!) and be civil at reunion…We all eventually did go to reunion (and had a great time!)….

    Since then, Facebook has been great for me….I am very selective about who I “friend”…definitely not the flamers….definitely not the creepy guys who had crushes on me in junior high (and who were staring at my ass at last reunion!)….I don’t agree with everybody’s political views on FB….I think most people just tacitly scroll past whatever they don’t agree with…or you can set what posts you want certain people to see…you don’t have to share everything with everybody …or expect people to buy into whatever you say…..

  7. You can debate someone over facebook just like you can debate them in real life without losing them as a friend.

    The problem here seems to be that the author could see no good in his friend above and beyond a (apparently projected) set of political views.

    Presumably you didn’t make this friend by going somewhere and saying “Hey who else thinks X about Y?” Instead you made this friend through the usual means: shared interests and experiences.

    The first real step is to acknowledge that people have the right to their own opinion, and SHOCKER, it might even be entirely rational. You view the friendship as “at risk” because you are failing to acknowledge that your friend might be a thinking, feeling, informed person who still reached a different conclusion on the subject than you did.

    But can’t informed, objective individuals who share interests reach differing conclusions?

    The only difference between this disagreement and a disagreement over say, where to eat lunch, is that you ascribe irrational and sub-human views to your opponents. This is precisely the kind of problem that prevents real conversations from taking place; the attack on the idea is conflated with an attack on the person. In your mind, the person cannot be reasonable and hold that view, and so they must be de facto unreasonable: you are creating an ad hominem attack in your head but disguising it like a reasoned argument.

    If, instead, you acknowledge that the person has reached a reasoned conclusion, based upon whatever evidence they give weight to (it sounds like scripture in this instance), there is nothing preventing you from pointing to an alternative conclusion based on either a different interpretation or on different evidence. If you are open and honest, if you stop being offended and start thinking critically, there is nothing stopping you from reaching common ground or even changing someone else’s mind.

    But if you decide that you’re offended, and that the offense is so great as to deserve verbal retribution, then you should probably ask yourself where that has gotten you, and whether or not genuine public discourse really has a future.

    • Islandspce says:

      EXACTLY correct…. Kudos for your response! What more, closely tied to the notion of “judgment” is “tolerance.” Although many accuse “absolutists” – usually, those who base their arguments on religious grounds – of intolerance, these accusers most likely have an unclear and distorted notion of what tolerance really is. They often are unaware that the concept of tolerance implies a close relationship to truth. Contrary to popular definitions, true tolerance means “putting up with error”—not “being accepting of all views.”

      Moreover, what the author describes is, likely, a classic example of how two GOOD people, operating from a place of integrity, can look at the exact same scenario but see things DIFFERENTLY. If we could only appreciate this in our relationships and find a way to work through our differences in perception of situations as they arise, giving each other the benefit of the doubt and the RESPECT that we may have differences but that we are both coming from a place of integrity, much of the CONFLICT in relationships would cease.

      Is the author, at least, ready or willing to admit that?

  8. I only “friend” people I know and like, but that still means there is a great diversity of viewpoints among my friends. I don’t so much mind the differences as the way certain people “defend” their beliefs–which is to say they resort to rhetoric and insults. I can’t stand that incivility. I have very strong political and philosophical beliefs, and most of my friends already have an idea of where I stand. Nonetheless, I have rarely ever posted political things on my page if only because I don’t want my friends attacking each other. There are a select few who post too many nasty political things, and I just hide their updates and visit their pages just to catch up. I bite my tongue and just don’t engage on the controversial posts with which I disagree. It’s just not worth it to me.

  9. I keep them and try to speak respectfully – but my reason is that I don’t want my facebook feed and interactions, as well as twitter, to be an echo chamber where everyone agrees with me and feeds my ego constantly. I will defriend, or hide, people who post incessantly stuff that I find offensive or backwards, after I give them a (hopefully respectful) piece of my mind.

  10. Henry Vandenburgh says:

    One of my best friends is a Ron Paul supporter. I did personal libertarianism, but want to control the hell out of businesses. We’re still great friends.

  11. Jamie Reidy says:

    In my experience, nobody has ever changed anybody’s mind on politics or religion or Yankees/Red Sox (which may also be a religious argument). So why bother trying on Facebook?

  12. I one time made the statement on Facebook that I really HATE 85% of Led Zeppelin songs. I had people laughing, empathizing (rare), saying I was wrong (but in a nice way) and then one guy completely FREAKED out on me! Like freaked out. Four messages in a row worth of freaking. He was so personally offended.

    I also learned from my uncle that my father never liked “the Zep” (as he called it) either and people would get really mad at him over it.

    I guess we’re just both Stones fans. We can’t help ourselves.

    • omg Joanna! I don’t know that I can associate with you any more. I mean not only do you hate Led Zeppelin…but you’re willing to admit it publicly?! ;)

      • Peter Houlihan says:

        God hates Led Zepp

      • Joanna Schroeder says:

        I really don’t like them. I’m not saying they suck, I just hate their music. Seems the same but isn’t…

        And I don’t hate ALL just some.

        It sounds like Houlihan is saying I’m God. I know he’s not, but it’s like that algebraic property:

        A+B=C and B+A=C, therefore C-A=B

        I may have just made that up.

  13. Peter Houlihan says:

    Just to be clear: I support gay rights (I’d be rather masochistic not to) and I don’t hold that civil liberties should be defined by religion.

    I support alot of things and I oppose others, but I don’t expect my friends’ support and opposition to line up with mine.

    There are limits to that, if a friend of mine insisted on acting in a way not compatible with life in civilised society (like screaming homophobic abuse at passers by) then they wouldn’t be my friend. If they believe that homosexuality is wrong… their call. I can’t define their beliefs and its not my place to try.

    If I posted a political article on facebook I don’t agree that I have the right to insist that it only receive comments from people who agree with me. I have a few friends with whom I have mutual agreements not to discuss certain topics for the sake of the peace, she has her views, I have mine, but when I post an article from the GMP onf facebook its a political act. Acting surprised when someone makes a political response isn’t reasonable.

  14. Ahhh, mixing business with pleasure. The tightrope that we walk on Facebook and other social media platforms. Luckily there’s a solution. Facebook allows you to group your friends. I’ve created a group called “political”. Those friends are the only ones that see my political postings. I have old classmates from grad school, old classmates from high school, some colleagues and of course family and close friends. I KNOW that a lot of my facebook friends don’t share my political views. Creating groups of friends has allowed me to rant without offending.
    Specifically on the issue of gay-rights. It really doesn’t matter about one’s religious beliefs on the subject. In America we don’t (or are not supposed to) discriminate against any group of people. Period. I suggest your friend watch the documentary FOR THE BIBLE TELLS ME SO.

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