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Consider this: Unblock your haters and block the hate

My path to internet zen and how to be a better Facebook friend.

By | Ali Osgood

It’s Thursday night in Maui and a warm tropical breeze is fanning the tops of the palm trees. My phone beeps. A notification from my facebook app shifts my carefree mind from coconuts and Mai Tais to a sobering, disheartening reality. 

An argument about the Women’s March on Washington plays out on my cracked iPhone screen between two close family members. My heart sinks.

Most people with a social media account can relate to that gut-wrenching feeling when a controversial notification pops up. According to Pew Research Insitute, 59 percent of American facebook users feel that political arguments on facebook are stressful and frustrating. But how about when it’s with a family member? 

A Reuters/IPSOS opinion polled 6,426 people. Of that number, 39 percent have political arguments on social media. 16 percent have stopped talking to a family member because of these arguments, and 17 percent have blocked a family member from viewing their profile. 

I grew up in a loving Italian household where family comes first. So, as I receive negative comments on my Facebook from my siblings and watch other relatives cast tirades of opposition throughout my computer screen, I wonder if keeping my loved ones off of my feed is the only way to keep the peace. But before I go to the extreme measure of pushing the BLOCK button, I consider three ways to diffuse the tension from social media. 

Unsubscribe. There’s a magical option on Facebook that eliminates a friends posts from my newsfeed with only two clicks. In the past, unsubscribing has been the perfect option for friends who post one too many pictures of their spaghetti dinner, crazy cat videos or drooling babies, and I thought it might help ease frustration toward my family’s politics. However, its limits quickly became clear.

The unsubscribe button doesn’t keep my family from commenting on my posts, and it doesn’t keep their comments on other’s posts from appearing in my newsfeed. And unfortunately, it doesn’t change the way they feel and it offers me no further understanding of why they feel that way. 

Telephone.  My brother David is a war veteran. He and his wife, Heather, are dedicated parents, Christians and Donald Trump supporters. In contrast? Let’s just say I checked a different box on my ballot. 

We talked for nearly two hours. Primarily we discussed politics, but we also got into social media, our concerns regarding our country and frustrations with each other’s views. I felt it was a productive conversation.

Speaking eliminates the ability to portray a context. Instead of assuming that my sister-in-law’s comments were aggressive and unkind, I could hear in her voice that they came from a deeper sense of discomfort and concern. I realized that the anxiety I felt about what I’d assumed David and Heather were thinking about me was rash and ill-conceived. 

The Golden Rule. My older sister has a code she lives by: Most things in life can be done with kindness. Yes, this can be a challenging concept when in the middle of a heated argument on why the Beatles are the greatest rock band of all time (which they are). But, if we project hate through our arguments, then we will only cast our opponents away. 

Recent Humboldt State grad Jacob Stadtfeld is one of my more politically active Facebook friends. I asked him what motivates his posts and how he deals with the arguing tyrants of social media.

“In posting about potentially divisive and contentious topics, my hope is that people who might disagree can feel comfortable in voicing their opinions and sparking a discussion,” Stadtfeld said. “Overall I’ve found that even if commenters disagree with my opinion or the content of a posted article, the resulting discussions can facilitate at least a better understanding of alternative perspectives, if not outright consensus.”

Here’s the thing that I’ve realized: Facebook has been the driving force in my political motivation. It was easy for me to turn a blind eye to the going-ons of American government, but once my family got involved and I found a need to understand the justification of their opinions, I found myself contemplating my own position in politics. I asked myself questions like ‘Why do you feel that way? Why should you support that candidate?” And “how can you make your voice heard in an effective way?”

So if you’re thinking about blocking a cyber-bully, think a little further. Instead, rejoice in the challenge they are offering you, respond by confirming your position and inquiring about theirs. 

Whether you are Republican, Democratic, human or alien, practice these exercises and remember to enjoy Facebook for what it is – a great way to celebrate the challenges, personalities and diversity of our friends and family. 

And of course, the occasional crazy cat video.

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