As anyone who saw me muck up the beginning of the Nick Forte Holiday Blowout Sale last week remembers, I suck at marketing, so I’m not going to talk about the virtues of Facebook in that regard. Facebook is about the only marketing I do for the self-published books and I sell at least a handful every month, so it is helpful for getting and keeping folks aware.
What I want to talk about today is a virtue far greater than book marketing. In a world where people are too busy to get together as much as they might like, and even then will naturally tend to spend that valuable limited time with those of like minds, Facebook provides a view into the world at large not obtainable from too many other sources.
Is that view skewed? Absolutely. Is that an irreparable failing? Not at all. Like anything else worthwhile, it takes a little effort. Of course fake news is a problem. There is also a simple cure: don’t pay attention to it. Resources exits that either call out fake news sites or can provide some comfort as to which are reliable. Even then, it’s on you. If you see something you’re not sure about, do what the journalist should have done: verify the sources. If you see an article about Barack Obama queuing up black helicopters to take guns away from law-abiding white people to give to the Black Panthers at www.freedomfromoppression.com, a quick Google search will show you who else is reporting it. If no one is, if the other sites are equally questionable, or if the sites that do report it have an incestuous relationship of referring to each other as sources, it’s bullshit. The same applies if you read that Donald Trump wants to establish the principle of prima nocta for American presidents. Check it out. It’s not Facebook’s fault if you’re gullible to a fault.
So where are the benefits? In the discussions. Yes, you’ll find a lot of wingnuts—from the left and right—who have a saved list of talking points they’re ready to copy and paste into any discussion where certain words appear. They’ll also call names. How to keep them from trolling one’s own well-reasoned and legitimate comment into irrelevancy? Again, with a little work on your part.
First, be sure your initial post is fact-based. You can voice an opinion, but take a few minutes to fact check the news item that set you off. Second, phrase your comment as a reasoned response to the source material and not a veiled swipe at the intellect, integrity, patriotism, or parentage of others.
Then you can lift a page from The Who and tell potential commenters what you’re not going to take. My standard disclaimer is:
The purpose of this post is to promote discussion among people of varying perspectives in the hope we’ll all learn something. Those who change the subject or treat other commenters disrespectfully will have their comments deleted. Without warning, if the offense is severe enough. Habitual offenders will be blocked from future discussions.
That seems to work quite well. Not perfectly—nothing is perfect—but more than well enough.
What is the result? I get to engage in discussion with intelligent and well-informed people who have a variety of perspectives and treat each other, and each other’s arguments, with respect. I learn things every time and hope they do, too. Maybe the nicest side effect came when a commenter noted as a discussion wound down that this was a “Dana King” discussion, encouraging exactly the kind of discourse I’m hoping for. Made my day.
The best result of this is an enhanced sense of what I have come to believe is the most essential human quality: empathy. I now make a conscious effort not to form too strong an opinion on anything until I’ve at least made an effort to look at it from someone else’s perspective. What’s the easiest way to decide if something is unfair or discriminatory? Take a minute to ponder how you’d feel if it happened to you. Want to talk about a change in national policy? Chat with those who disagree with you and find the parts of the topic you both agree on. This may take some discussion, as these areas of agreement may not be on the surface.
I’m an advocate for gun control. Not gun eradication. Gun control. When I chat with an ardent Second Amendment type, I attempt early on the see what we can agree on. It’s usually pretty easy: We shouldn’t let some people have guns, period. We usually also agree on the list of who to ban pretty quickly: Violent felons, the mentally ill, terrorists. (There are others that may require some back and forth, but those three are pretty universal.) Now that we’ve agreed on who shouldn’t have guns, how can we keep them from getting them? That’s a much more practical than philosophical discussion, which means there’s a solution if reasonable people are willing to look for it.
Lot of these things would not have occurred to me had I not been exposed to the various points of view on Facebook. Are some of them more than a couple of standard deviations off center? Oh, yeah. That’s fine. I would not have an opportunity to learn to separate the wheat from the chaff otherwise. On balance it’s a great way to keep one from getting too isolated in one’s own bubble.
We all have our bubbles and we all need to find ways to stick pins in them before the shells harden. It’s a little work, but it’s worth it when you consider we’ll need to give opinions that truly matter as early as next spring’s primaries. (Yes, Virginia, there are primaries next spring. Not for national offices, but many state and local elections. And, yes, Virginia, you’re one of the states.) Refine your thinking skills now. After voting to potentially gut the house, we need all the rational judgement we can muster to keep from tearing it down altogether, as we all still have to live in it.