Etiquette, Politics, and Facebook

Image courtesy of Kevin Ott and Flickr; Creative commons.

Permitted subjects over dinner

It used to be said that polite dinner guests did not discuss sex, religion or politics. That might make the dinner party boring but at least you finish the evening with everyone on speaking terms. No such restrictions seem to be applied on Facebook, although some argue they should be. I beg to differ, in part at least. I’m thinking of politics, but also of religion.

Let’s look at why people post about politics, and why people object. It seems to me that people post about whatever interests them. I have friends who post about cake recipes and motor racing, both subjects which bore me intensely (I’m very happy to eat the cakes of course). Do I object? No, I just don’t read the posts. I have other friends for whom politics is a consuming passion. I read most of their posts because they interest me. If I find them objectionable I might stop reading them or I can argue. My choice.

Objections and Objectives

One of my friends recently started a discussion about how political posts were getting too much and commented that they were unlikely to change her mind. An interesting discussion, and probably true, but is that the point? We argue about politics because we care about it, because we hold certain views and want them to be heard. And yes, we’d like to persuade people to agree. What’s wrong with that? It’s democracy in microcosm. Now, in practise, arguing and posting might not change many minds but it will influence thought processes, and the underlying choices are not simply between political parties but between policies they espouse. Those policies are, in turn, influenced by what they hear from the ‘man, or woman, in the street’. Not only that, but if there’s even a small chance that something I write or share might influence friends to act or vote in a way that will save a hospital, encourage action to mitigate climate change, stop cuts to welfare, avoid an unnecessarily hard Brexit then it’s worth it. You can insert your own list of priorities if you don’t like mine.

Is Facebook different?

Friends argue. Politics is something they argue about. With some friends there is agreement, with some passionate disagreement. If it threatens the relationship, you avoid the subject, but mostly it doesn’t. Transfer all that to Facebook. Argue if you feel comfortable to do so, avoid if you don’t, ignore if you’re bored. Your choice. And in an election campaign these issues are going to be on everyone’s minds so if you hate politics, just bear with us.

I had an argument on Facebook yesterday with a friend whose voting intentions surprised me – and a lot of his other friends. He knew they would but blogged about it anyway, and shared on Facebook. Quite right – and we’ll remain friends.

Insults and vitriol

One of the issues people struggle with is personal abuse. There’s a lot of it in a political campaign as passions are inflamed and some of it is pre planned. You need only look at the nonsense printed by the Daily Mail on a regular basis to see that. Or to read about the tactics of Sir Lynton Crosby, allegedly the mastermind behind the Goldsmith mayoral campaign and the current May campaign. It’s sad that leading politicians should allow themselves to be dragged into the gutter but it’s hardly a unique occurrence. For the rest of us, we have a choice. Don’t get dragged in. Attack the policies, the philosophy, not the people. It might be difficult to maintain that separation. Try! However flawed our system might be, it’s still one in which we have some sort of say. Let’s not denigrate it. Enjoy it. And Vote!

Tony Earnshaw

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