Somebody decided to unfriend me on facebook.
Don’t worry, I’m not at all troubled by it nor am I especially hurt or upset. My wife caused me to call it to mind by asking, with some surprise, ‘has so-and-so removed you from their facebook friends?’ Well, yes, so-and-so has. But it happened a very long time ago. ‘That’s really sad. Why?’ she pressed on. Alas, we cannot know for certain, for such is the nature of being shunned. But one can get a sense of these things and piece it together. In this case, it seemed to be the sharing of some articles (though which particular ones I cannot recall). I know his view on them because he told me so, openly, on facebook. Shortly after, I noticed he no longer considered me his friend… well, facebook friend. ‘What a shame!’ my wife exclaimed, ‘you’ve got loads in common’.
Indeed, we do. We lean in a very similar political direction and had very similar upbringings in Conservative Evangelical circles. We met years ago and bonded over a shared love of obscure indie music. I have since gone into the ministry, he has since left the faith. But we still met up and, speaking only for myself, had a rare old time. Despite our different directions on Evangelicalism, we nonetheless understood each other’s background, had a shared sense of political affinity and still enjoyed talking about the same kind of music. Yet, despite all of this, a difference of opinion over an issue here or there seemed to bring the whole thing to a crashing halt. What a shame, indeed.
All of this would hardly bear comment but for the fact that it evinces a wider societal problem. It seems we are increasingly unable to cope with friends who do not share and affirm all of our views. Increasingly, people take disagreement as a personal affront and equate ‘hatred’ with the non-affirmation of every choice they make and view they hold. What is more, facebook exacerbates the problem. Views and opinions are simply dumped into the public domain in the form of articles and statuses to be ‘liked’ or not. If you don’t like the opinions on offer, or you’re sick of the photographs, what other reason is there to maintain the facebook friendship?
I have a reasonably broad range of facebook friends. There are Christians, Muslims, Atheists and others. There are Labour supporters, Tories, Lib Dems and others. There are people I knew at school, university and various places of work. There are folk from all round the country as well as people in other countries. There are even a few people I have never met in person. This breadth of connection forces me to interact with views and opinions that I wouldn’t usually see. I am grateful to my friends who do not think like I do because it causes me to assess my own presumptions and defend my conclusions. We may not always agree but do not underestimate the power of causing somebody to stop, think and interact with a view they would otherwise never have heard or, at best, purposefully ignored.
It is easy for facebook just to reinforce all of our predetermined views. It’s so easy to click a button to remove friends because someone posts views and opinions that grate. I’m convinced more of us are doing this because it is evidenced by a kind of group-think that is all too prevalent in wider society. How many times did we hear, ‘I haven’t met anyone who voted Brexit’? Either you must have done and people were too scared to admit it or you live your life in a purpose-built bubble, surrounded only by people who share your views (or, at least, who tell you they do). Time and again, the tendency is simply to shut out the views we don’t like rather than to see them as an opportunity to carefully consider your own presumptions and conclusions. Surely we can reclaim the ability to disagree without the need to purge from view all who don’t share our views?
The documentary, Accidental Courtesy, follows Darrell Davis – a black American man – in his quest to meet those who belong to far-right, racist organisations. Through his meetings, Davis has made unlikely friends with many of these people, including Ku Klux Klan leaders who have subsequently left the organisation because of their friendship with him. In one scene, Davis says:
Let’s say you and 20 other people have this group that is anti-racist, and all you do is talk about how bad racism is. Well, what good is that group doing? All you’re doing is preaching to the choir. The way you resolve [differences] is you invite somebody to the table who disagrees with you, so you’ll understand why they have that point of view. Then, perhaps, you will figure out a solution to dissuade their fears.
It seems facebook, for many, has become the online equivalent. We befriend those who agree with us just so we can bolster our belief that we hold all the right views because everyone we know shares them. If anybody shatters the illusion, we remove them as friends, or we block them, so that we don’t have to consider that we might be wrong or, at least, have drawn some lazy conclusions from faulty presumptions. It gives the lie to the fact that we’re not posting to share views and discuss but to feel good about ourselves because our views and beliefs are the right ones. Anyone who demurs, who dares to shatter the illusion that all right thinking people think like me, must be removed.
It’s alright though because everyone reading this will no doubt agree with me. Everyone else has removed me from facebook, we can’t have them shattering the illusion.