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September 12, 2015

The War of Words on Facebook

by Anne Paddock

I’d be willing to wager that no one has won an argument on Facebook. We have the Right to Lifers and Pro Choice defenders at each other’s throats with neither side giving an inch while the NRA and the citizens who support various types of gun control villainize each other. The animal rights activists are exposing the livestock industry for its cruel practices and trying to shame those who don’t care or think the industry’s practices are best ignored.  And, the political supporters of both the Republican and Democratic parties polarize and tear each other apart on Facebook. Too many people are spewing vitriol at one another in a ping-pong game of words in which no one ever wins.

People disagree every day on issues but there is usually a filter that holds people back from telling someone to fuck off,  that she is going to hell, that he doesn’t know squat, or that he’s either a fucking pussy, a total dick, or an asshole. But, not on Facebook where I’ve seen these words along with the most nasty, mean-spirited comments day after day. I used to respond to many of these social media bullies but I rarely if ever allow myself to get dragged into these “discussions” anymore because more often than not, the issue is not argued based on meritorious points but instead disintegrates into personal attacks along the lines of “Jane, you ignorant slut” – except that it’s not funny.

This past week a friend posted a video in which a goat was both ramming and being kicked by people. I commented on the video calling out the display as abusive, not entertainment. Within 16 hours, there were 31 comments, most of which were crude (“I’d cut that goat’s nuts off”), dismissive (“shut up”), and rude. Full disclosure: I knew this would happen but wanted to show how pointless commenting on polarizing issues can be on Facebook. If anyone really thinks he is going to change people’s minds by calling them out on Facebook, think again. Facebook offers people a curtain to hide behind so they can write what they probably wouldn’t (and shouldn’t) say in  person.

Years ago, I read a great piece of advice that was given to the author Ann Patchett by her father. He told her that if she doesn’t want to engage with people that she shouldn’t engage with them on any level. Eventually, they will go away. Fantastic advice that I regret not following earlier in my social media days because toxic people on Facebook are not worth my time. I haven’t convinced anyone that my uterus is mine to do with what I want, that our safety is more important that someone’s right to bear arms, that Ag-gag laws should be repealed, that we should be on plant-based diets instead of on statins, and the best president for this country would be a fiscally conservative social liberal (in other words, a moderate). It’s not that I’ve given up; I just think there is a better way – outside of Facebook. Ignore the bullies and the trolls. They will eventually go away. And, if not you can always block them. They will be placed in the Block of Shame, never to be heard from again.

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