A friend recently posted about being continually frustrated with seeing offensive posts on Facebook. It seems that she tended to interact with those sorts of posts, Facebook had learned that fact, and showed her more of what she interacted with. My initial advice was to lean on the ‘hide’ and ‘unfollow’ functions that Facebook offers. Then I started thinking a little more about my own behavior.
I used to enjoy visiting the skeptic and atheist communities on Reddit quite a bit. I identified with the thoughts and opinions of the members of those communities, and was generally frustrated with ignorant people selling snake-oil (homeopathy, anti-vaxxers, etc.). Sometimes, this would result in my interacting with people from opposing camps, and typically in an unhealthy way. It’s easy to get into a fight online, and get really worked up over how blind the other person is. Sometimes it spills over into real-life arguments, and tense discussions. Eventually, I had enough of these kinds of interactions, and decided to pull back from those communities.
Once I got away from those communities, I was quite a bit happier. Yes, there are lots of dumb people out there, that say and believe dumb things. However, I don’t think that arguing with them is going to change their mind. In fact, I think that in general, it will do exactly the opposite (since there is evidence to suggest that whenever your views are challenged, you tend to dig in your heels more than open up to opposing views). So, in addition to wearing yourself out, getting frustrated, and dealing with ignorant people, you’re actually accomplishing the opposite of your goal. At least, that was the case for me, and why I’ve completely stopped visiting the atheist and skeptic communities on Reddit and elsewhere.
By the time I started seeing these posts on Facebook, I had learned enough to not engage, and to ‘hide’ posts, and ‘unfollow’ people who frequently posted things that I found overly simplistic and/or offensive.
That said, I don’t think that conversing online is pointless, but it makes a huge difference who you’re talking to, and the tone of the conversation. I think that in general, if you’re able to talk to level-headed people that you might disagree with, and both people are respectful, and reflective, then there’s certainly room for growth and increased understanding on both sides. I would rather have an interesting conversation with someone and change a possibly incorrect opinion than dig my heels in and cling to ideas that do not evolve with my knowledge of the world. Even though I do have trouble with this sometimes.
It’s also why I simply don’t interact with people who post very strongly held opinions that are presented in a pithy, obvious way. Generally, these are in the form of memes that at least half of its potential viewers would find offensive. I want to interact with people who are thoughtful and flexible. I have no interest in entering into a conversation with someone who is gung ho on some topic, whether or not I agree with them. I have little tolerance for continuing conversations that have turned sour, and will quickly exit them.
With that said, I’d like to post the following as a disclaimer for just about anything I write that resembles a stance or opinion.
I am just a person, trying to figure things out. Whatever you read on this blog, or whatever I post anywhere, is perhaps what I’m thinking and feeling at the time. It is also possible that I’ll take a devil’s advocate position, as a way to try to keep the conversation moving or try to work something out. Opinion posts here are not representative of permanently held views of mine, and instead, should be thought of more fluidly — like this is where I am right now, and I’m using this post to work something out. If you disagree, and can respond thoughtfully and respectfully, then I welcome the discussion. If you’re going to try to fire shots, and pretend like we’re on some cable “news” show where people shout at each other, then please don’t bother.