Facebook and the Politics of Friendship

I’m almost embarrassed to be writing a blog post with such an ambitious, pretentious title. Nevertheless, we are in the midst of a political campaign and the stakes are high. On November 6 we will either elect a new president (God-forbid!) or re-elect the one we have. The nation is almost evenly divided on the issues and the ways in which we would like to see the country move forward. Much has been said about the state of the U. S. economy, and most would argue that this election hinges on the current state of the economy. However, I think that the U. S. economy, to say nothing of the world economy, which is in the same sad condition, is only a smokescreen. The real issue, as it has always been, is ideology. The left, of which I am a proud member, would have greater regulations and is undeniably behind more social programs. The right is for less, or smaller government, and the increasing privatization of our lives. With the possibility of at least three Supreme Court Justices seeking retirement in the next four years, this election could have lasting effects on the lives of all Americans. Every U. S. Presidential election is framed as the most important of our time, but this one really is important.

As we get closer to the election more and more politically held beliefs are being played out on social media, with Facebook and Twitter leading the way. Recently, I experienced one of my Facebook “friends” take me to task for some of the things I wrote on my page. As a result, this “friend” defriended (a very recent verb born to my lexicon, so new in fact, that spell check fails to recognize it) me. To add insult to injury, a “friend” from high school “liked” what this person said of me. I’m not sure if I should be offended or hurt by all of this, but I was secretly overjoyed that I, A. said something provocative enough to draw that kind of response, and B. anger a conservative. I take the defriending as a badge of honor in my own private war against radical conservatism and its war on the poor. Doubtless, many of my Facebook friends will be angered by my view from the left, and thus consider me a socialist who hates America. As tempting as it is to take the bait and respond to these allegations, I will try not to. Instead, I want to use our current political climate to briefly interrogate the politics of friendship now that the concept is evolving thanks to social media.

What, exactly, does having a friend on Facebook signify? Am I less popular than others because they have one thousand friends and I have only two hundred? Should I feel sorry for the sad schmuck who has only a dozen or so Facebook friends? Furthermore, does all of this follow an ever-present pattern that attached itself to our personalities since childhood? I cannot help but feel that there is something pathetic about all of this, and yet I continue to use Facebook on a regular basis, so I am not claiming to be immune. Then again, perhaps Facebook gives us the chance to be in touch with people without the inconvenience of the dreaded “stop and chat.” If we choose not to respond to an inquiry or friend request or comment we do not have to. In the two and a half years I have had a Facebook persona I have had a continued request from a classmate from my high school days. Normally I would accept the request, but after reading some of his posts I have discovered that he is now so right wing that I cannot bring myself to accept his request. I just do not have the time or energy to waste on minds as fanatical as that.

My own views, which I often place on Facebook, are certain to offend people at times, perhaps more often than I realize. But, as Salman Rushdie has said, the right to offend is just that, a right guaranteed by the tenets of any democratic society. I’m sure that my own political views offend some of the more conservative friends that I have. However, I think when I say something like “Anyone who reads and likes writers like Nickolas Sparks is intellectual barren” is far more offensive. Incidentally, I whole-heartedly believe that only brain-dead, unimaginative people will read more than one book by Sparks. It is hard not to be opinionated, especially during a presidential election year.

There is no possibility of friendship without the possibility of difference. When one’s point of view if different from mine, that person validates my existence as a thinking human being. He or she informs me that I am different from. To be different, to exist in a state of difference, is as necessary as breathing. The freedom to be different is what constitutes a free and open society. Mindless bumper stickers with phrases like “You can’t be Catholic and Pro-Choice” reduces thinking individuals into mindless sheep existing in a closed society. But perhaps that is what the majority of people want to be: mindless and led by an errant shepherd. Friendship is political. As thinking animals everything becomes politically charged.

I strongly suspect that a lot of defriending on Facebook will occur during this political season. Some feelings will be hurt, some will lose old and new friends, and some of us will do our best to stir the pot. I do not mourn the loss of friends who wish to defriend me on account of my political beliefs. Facebook friends are really little more than simulacra of friendships past and present.

Everyone, after all, is entitled to his or her opinion: just as long as he or she agrees with mine.


3 thoughts on “Facebook and the Politics of Friendship

  1. My take on FB and politics: If I don’t want to read what someone writes, I can hide them. I’ve done that to several people. I’ve only defriended one person for political views, and it was because of the lack of personal ties plus the extreme political views.

    As one of your more politically conservative FB friends, while I don’t always agree with you, I try to learn from your posts. Besides, I don’t define personal relationships by political ideology.

    • Mark,

      You are one of the people who continually prove me wrong about my ideas about conservatives. I am trying to learn from you, and I am really trying not to choose friends based on politically ideology. I need to stop lumping all conservatives into the far fringe occupied by people like Rush Limbaugh. I’m working on it!

  2. Ideology, and a willingness/desire to listen to those not like us is a complicated phenomenon. In the past there was a common culture that everyone sort of had to participate in–now we can just watch “our” tv shows, listen to our music, and read our news feeds. You are probably right that new media is making people less inclined to listen to those unlike themselves.
    There is not an easy solution to this, the negative result of all the choice we now have. And while I try to keep my ears open to those who annoy me, I find that hard, and I am sure you do too.

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