When Facebook came on the scene, I immediately saw this new online forum as a platform from which to express my opinion about current events like I did as a newspaper editorialist. It was all just so easy and convenient. Except for one thing.
For about a decade before joining Facebook, I wrote weekly opinion pieces for a local newspaper, mostly about the political issues in the news at that moment. My qualifications for the gig included holding a Ph.D. in History and thus being a supposed expert on the topics I was writing about, and being the author of a few scholarly books and thus a decent writer of proper English. Because of my educational background and academic accomplishments, and because an editor considered my opinion authoritative enough to warrant a regular column in his paper, I had a feeling of superiority to the masses, who I considered mostly less-educated and ill-informed readers. My feeling of superiority was constantly bolstered by the fact that I didn’t get much blowback from those readers, so I quite naturally assumed most of them agreed with what I wrote. A few readers would occasionally write a letter to the editor disagreeing with me or perhaps even ripping me to shreds, but they were so few that it did not give me pause about continuing to put my opinion out there for public consumption.
Then Facebook came along. I forget the exact year, but sometime around 2008, I joined it. I immediately saw this new online forum as a platform from which to express my opinion about current events like I did in the newspaper. Since everyone else was joining Facebook around that time, too, there soon was no need for me to continue writing for that local newspaper. On Facebook, I could get my opinions out there daily instead of weekly, and I didn’t have to worry about an editor’s approval. It was all just so easy and convenient. Except for one thing.
I was immediately shocked to discover that Facebook “friends” didn’t sit passively and let my opinions fly by without comment like newspaper readers did. No, they talked back. A lot. And many of them weren’t nice. Nor did they know or care about using proper English when they ripped into me. It hurt, and it hurt badly. “How dare they?”, I said to myself. “How dare these uneducated cretins challenge me, the great and powerful Oz!” But they were relentless. Some of these critics took great, sadistic pleasure in poking the bear, trying to get a rise out of me. And it worked. I would engage in heated verbal battles that sometimes dragged on for days until I was completely exhausted. And for what? All that came of it was a loss of peace, joy, and contentment, and a lot of bitterness toward folks who were otherwise good people outside of Facebook.
Not until the presidential election season of 2012 did I awaken to the realization that no good was coming from voicing my opinion on Facebook, but a lot of bad was coming from it. I saw that nobody was changing his vote one way or the other based on my opinion. I was merely preaching to my own choir and reinforcing views it already held, while provoking the other side to dig in and fight all the harder for their party and candidates. Since then, I have stopped casting my pearls of political wisdom on Facebook, and I have become a mostly passive reader of other people’s posts, clicking the “like” button or scrolling on past, but rarely commenting. And my peace, joy, and contentment have returned.
Sadly, Facebook basically put the newspaper I used to write for out of business. And equally sadly, since the election of 2016, the voices of reason that one might have found in the editorials of such small-town papers have been replaced by the wild rantings of the unhinged masses on Facebook. Fake news, conspiracy theories, bad history, and worse English can all be found in abundance, sandwiched between photos of Billy Bob’s family vacation to Disney and Sue Ellen’s baby pictures. And once in a great while, a pearl of wisdom is to be found there, too. But it likely won’t be written by me, for I have learned my lesson. I choose peace, joy, and contentment over the foolishness and futility of discussing politics on Facebook.
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