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Ask Philip: When to unfriend? Navigating the politics of (and on) Facebook

Dear Philip:

I used to enjoy Facebook. Now I find the most horrible political postings from people that I otherwise like. I am shocked by the nasty, hateful things that some of my “friends” post, and I wish I didn’t know this about them. Do I unfriend them, or just not look at Facebook until after the election?

Shocked and Dismayed 

Dear S.A.D.,

Isn’t it amazing how, thanks to modern technology, just about anyone can become the jerky uncle who ruins Thanksgiving every year? To quote a former president, I feel your pain: I’ve taken advantage of that newest verb in our lexicon and unfriended more than a few Facebook buddies over the stuff they feel the need to share with the world.

Here are my rough guidelines for navigating political “talk” in the age of social media. If a Facebook friend posts something that disagrees with my beliefs, but is respectful and/or interesting, that’s swell. Appreciated, even. After all, those who seek only confirmation of their own views tend to be uninformed — and are usually proud of their ignorance. I’d rather not fall into that camp. If a friend posts something that puts down my candidate, but is mild and funny, that’s fine, too. When we start to creep into open — and personal — derision, I have to think about whether I like that person enough to let them bring me down whenever I come across one of their posts.

Here’s my automatic “you’re outta here” trigger: If someone on my roster of Facebook friends reposts hateful, racist, homophobic, extreme garbage, especially from a fourth-rate political blog, they’re gone. Doesn’t matter if they live down the street or if I had a crush on them in high school. (Which happened, by the way: a girl I mooned over as a teenager turns out to be about as ugly on the inside as she was beautiful on the outside. Finding that out sort of retroactively ruined the crush, you know?)

Obviously, politics are a minefield. Four years ago, I was honored to be the guest speaker at our library’s annual meeting, and I played a little prank on the crowd. In closing, I said, “I know we’re not supposed to discuss these things in public, but in the spirit of community, I’d like to share something.” My parents shrunk a little, right in the front row. “I know we’re coming to the end of a long, hard-fought contest — and I know that around here, my guys are not exactly the favorites.”

My wife looked daggers at me, not knowing where I was headed. “I feel it’s important nevertheless,” I continued, “to support my side.” Arctic doesn’t begin to describe the chill that developed in that room. And then I leaned forward, put on the baseball cap I’d hidden in the podium, and shouted, “Go, Red Sox!”

I got a big laugh, which grew louder when I added, “Did you think I meant something else?”

Here’s the thing that ultimately made my joke not that funny — but very interesting. At least four people informed my folks afterward that if I’d actually mentioned the candidates they didn’t support, they would have stood up and walked out. I was floored: have we grown so intolerant of anything or anyone who disagrees with us that the mere mention of the other side will cause us to be angry and rude?

The answer, I’m afraid, can be found in some of the stuff posted on social media. Here’s hoping that our ability to reject the worst of that stuff by using the unfriend button will promote tolerance on Facebook. Better spelling would be nice, too.

Bipartisanly yours,

Philip

Dear Philip:

So, give us a prediction. Who’s going to win this thing?

Eager to Know

Dear Eager:

Right now, my money’s on the terrific “Argo,” though I suspect Spielberg’s “Lincoln” will give it a run. I’m really hoping that “Les Miserables” ends up as a strong contender, too. But we’ll just have to see.

Wait: did you mean something else?

Get thee to the polls!

Philip 

Philip Van Munching is a New York Times bestselling author of advice books, and was a finalist last year in the Good Morning America nationwide “advice guru” search. Email your questions to philip@askpvm.com.

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