It was the very first time I had ever done it. I actually “unfriended” someone on Facebook. Not because I disliked them. Actually I would consider them a personal friend. Rather, it was because of their continued comments about politics that I could no longer tolerate.
In this incredibly divided world that we live in, some will try to make their own assumptions about why I would take such an action. He is a right-wing conservative. He is a flaming liberal. He loves Trump. He loves Pelosi. Do not make any assumption about my politics. They are much more complicated than that.
Actually, I proudly call myself a moderate, one of the ugliest words in politics today. I also describe myself as an independent, also a negative description these days. I believe in compromise and in listening to both sides of an issue before making up my mind. How quaint. How outdated.
I grew up in very challenging times in the early 1960s. One of my first cousins and I would argue endlessly about George Wallace, civil rights, and the concept of separate but equal. Over 50 years later we enjoy these same types of discussions. The discourse between opposing views is healthy and often leads us to a constructive dialogue. If you are truly interested in the debate and seek the truth, you must listen to both sides.
That is the problem with Facebook. It allows people to put out their most extreme views without any fear of retribution. It is easy to condemn others when you don’t have to face them personally.
If I should ever leave politics, it will almost certainly be because of the aggressive and uncalled for comments about my actions as Mayor, businessman or citizen. I think it says a lot that those people who call me out on various issues on social media have never said a word to me publically or privately. Never. Not once.
You would think that someone who took the time to post on Facebook about the local topics of the day would be interested in the facts. Nope. They don’t call City Hall. They don’t call the City Manager or City Council members. They don’t call me, though my phone number has been publicly listed for over 40 years.
Our nation will not sink or swim based on small towns in Southwest Georgia. However, the social media discourse that alarms me most is the discussion at the national level. I receive Facebook posts from longtime friends about Trump, pro and con. Twitter is even worse.
When I am copied on vicious comments by my friends regarding the FBI, the Supreme Court, the Russians, the President, abortion, gun rights and so on and so forth, I often think that they have no interest about my own ideas on these matters. They shout from the mountain top without any curiosity on how others might feel, or how it might affect our friendship.
I love Facebook for rather limited reasons. It has been an absolutely wonderful way for me to reconnect with high school and college friends. There is no alternative that allows me to follow their lives, celebrate in their joys and share their losses.
At the same time, Facebook reflects the political views of many people that I love, without any opportunity for honest discussion. “If you don’t agree with me, then just unfriend me now”. Really? Did you mean to direct that comment to me specifically after 50 years of friendship? What makes you afraid of defending your own view as opposed to just taking your ball and going home?
I learned at the Georgia Press Association convention this past week that only five percent of your Facebook posts will actually be shared with your friends. It led me to wonder what if people posted their thoughts with a letter to the editor in the Donalsonville News or their local paper.
Could you articulate your thoughts in a letter as easily as a two sentence tweet? Do you have the courage to sign your name to a letter that criticizes your local, state and even national officials?
Facebook posts are a lazy person’s way of communicating. If you have a complaint with a restaurant, call them before posting. If you don’t like the actions of City Hall, call the City Manager or the Mayor rather than complaining somewhat anonymously. If you don’t have the guts to tell someone to their face that you don’t like something they did or said . . . well let’s just say Facebook is the coward’s way out.
As the owner of a newspaper, I value the meaning of words. As a lover of Facebook, I value how it helps me connect with friends. However, in your passion of a certain issue do not forget to be careful with your words. If not, you may lose something much more important than the point you are trying to make . . . a close and valued friend.
Dan Ponder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org