I hate some of the things I see my friends and family post on Facebook. I've seen conspiracy theories, inflammatory right-wing memes, and all sorts of things that make my blood boil. I see things that are wrong, both factually and morally, all the damn time.
Sometimes I come at people with claws out, and sometimes I just keep scrolling because I don’t have the emotional energy to deal with it. Then there are the times when I will hit the “unfriend” or “unfollow” button, cutting their bullshit out of my life, usually after a knock-down, drag-out public fight on the internet (like the great Aunt Leslie debacle of 2014). But I wonder if severing ties completely is really the right choice, for me or for them.
While I try to keep my newsfeed free from propaganda I find harmful at a deep, soul level, I don't think it’s a good idea to shut myself off from those I disagree with to the point that I live in an echo chamber. And to be honest, that’s exactly what my online life is becoming. One big, homogenous crowd of people who think just like me.
I find that more and more I am seeing things that I agree with, and it is shaping the way I view the world. I feel constantly reassured of my own opinions and biases, forgetting how many people in the world don’t think even remotely like me. I know that because when I do come across someone I don’t agree with, it’s my knee-jerk reaction to reject them outright, to write them off as a complete outlier because everyone else (or at least everyone I see) thinks, acts, votes like me.
I no longer have to see Aunt Leslie’s conservative elitist posts because she doesn’t exist in my world anymore. But here’s the thing, she still exists, and so do lots of people like her. Unfriending her is basically the equivalent of sticking my fingers in my ears and singing “la-la-la-I-can’t-hear-you!”
I'm not saying surround yourself with negative people, but it's important to see that they're there and you know them, because the real world isn't as comfortable as the one you curate.
The truth is, it's dangerous to unfriend your racist aunt (or whatever unsavory brand of family member you have hiding in your Facebook feed), because you run the risk of thinking the whole world thinks like you, and anyone who doesn't is a lone asshole. I'm not saying surround yourself with negative people, but it's important to see that they're there and you know them, because the real world isn't as comfortable as the one you curate.
I’m not going to go out of my way to socialize with people whose values are fundamentally different than my own. I’m also not going to engage with them all the time, even when they post enraging stuff that makes me want to shout and scream and pull my hair out. I’ll put myself into some battles, but not all of them, because it’s important that I take care of myself too.
And I am not suggesting that anyone with skin in the game put themselves through unnecessary pain by engaging with people who are actively harming their lives. If you need to unfriend someone, do it. If you need to put those family members through the knock-down drag-out fights, do it. If you need the support of an echo chamber more than you need the perspective I’m craving, I hear you. I know that I come at this from a place of privilege, and I’m not going to pretend otherwise. I get to have a higher tolerance for this crap, because it is not directly affecting my life.
But if I want to be a better ally, a better friend, a better person, then I need to not turn a blind eye to how many people aren’t on the same page as me. I need to see that these are people I know. I need to try to understand them. I need to be aware that they’re out there, so I don’t forget what the world really looks like.