Social media: between friends and strangers

Lately I’ve been pondering the situation that all of us using social media or blogs have faced at some stage – or will inevitably face – that of having one’s ideas challenged. Sometimes the challengers are rude, sometimes not; sometimes they are friends or acquaintances, often not.

For me, the challengers on Twitter are almost always strangers. It’s rarely worrying – if the comments are thoughtful and reasonable, I think about it and respond accordingly. It is, after all, what must one expect if putting one’s ideas into a public forum.

If the comments are rude, I ignore it or make a joke of it. I wish that people would express their disagreements by arguing reasonably against the ideas instead of rudely attacking or dismissing, but otherwise it is no big deal, because these rude people are inevitably strangers.

But recently a post of mine on Facebook attracted a comment from a friend that still makes me angry, two weeks later, every time I think of it.

The post was about the suspension of the Queensland Premier’s Literary Awards. I wrote:

Important Queensland programs going down the tube already – less than two weeks since the election. Unbelievable. Axing the QLD Premier’s Literary Awards will save all of $250,000 out of a budget of billions. Watch the cultural exodus begin again.

A friend, who is also a family connection, responded in a manner that wasn’t rude (and compared to most online commentary, is positively innocent). But it was thoughtless and they didn’t offer an argument to support their viewpoint. The comment read:

What’s so important about an award for literary? 250K, no wonder why they scrapped it. I mean come on.

I wrote a few short lines back pointing out that I’m a writer so maybe that would give some clue as to why I think it’s important. My response was completely measured, and in hindsight I think that’s part of the reason I keep thinking about it: because I really wanted to get angry about it. I wanted to say exactly what I thought about the comment’s lack of respect for me as a writer and for the craft of writing.

I’ve let it lie. After all, the comment was not rude and I probably have no right to feel offended. But the fact that it bothered me so much has got me thinking.

As I increase my social media presence, the lines are blurring between friends and strangers, and between the media directed primarily at strangers – this blog and my Twitter account – and that which is open only to “friends”, or at least to people I know – Facebook.

Where once my political opinions mainly stayed on Twitter, they’re now straying onto Facebook. And so it seems I must face the disagreement of people I actually know – far harder than the angry comments of strangers.

Many of my friends are cut from very different political cloth to myself. Some of my friends question why I associate with others who hold an utterly different viewpoint and whose interests, beliefs and even fashion choices are anathema to them.

So there are bound to be disagreements. Mostly, my friends will argue their point with purpose and logic. They’ll have a reason behind their beliefs and to some extent will recognise what lies behind my contrasting beliefs. But sometimes they don’t, and this is when it gets tough.

If I don’t like it, I guess I could stick to bland status updates and photos of cute animals on my Facebook page.

Somehow, I don’t think that’s likely, and in the end I am happy to argue, debate and discuss. I just hate comments that shut others down or that have no valid reasons behind them.

But it’s vital to be exposed to different views in order to be an engaged citizen of a democracy, and if one of the ways that happens is through my social media friends or by strangers on Twitter, then so be it. But along the way I had better hope for patience, and know when to let things go.

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4 thoughts on “Social media: between friends and strangers

  1. Jim says:

    This blog post is reflective of many aspects of how social media mediates relationships, or may be more accurately, how it disrupts the relational mediation process that we are used to. Taking one simple keyword from this post, ‘friends’, look how the word is being essentially redefined in its use in Facebook. Many of the so-called friends are work colleagues, acquaintances (friends of other friends), employees, supervisors, etc. These are hardly friends in the way the term used to be used and while it is ok that words evolve in meaning and usage, we have to evolve our sense of the relationships, too. If you put ‘facebook friends’ into Google Scholar, you’ll get 105 000 research papers on the topic. I read a few abstracts and didn’t find any papers actually deconstructing the term ‘friends’. But, there are bound to be some in there.

    How any individual relates to Facebook and the people who read posts is very much an individual matter. But, things like bullying happen on Facebook, too (18 700 papers) – between ‘friends’.

    Facebook poses us the personal challenge of managing image and the posts of others but it also poses all sorts of interesting sociological and psychological questions. Plenty of intellectual food for thought.

    cheers, Jim

    • equineocean says:

      Thanks for the comment Jim,

      I certainly agree that the notion of friends is different when the relationship is mediated through social media. When writing the post, I pondered what term was best to use, and considered “Facebook friend” instead of “friend”. The former term has traction in its own right these days and certainly signifies something different from the latter.

      In some ways I find Twitter easier to deal with, because I begin with the assumption that strangers will read my posts, and mediate accordingly.

  2. Cameron P says:

    Criticism or inconsiderate comments from friends or people you’re close to can be a lot harder to deal with than from complete strangers in any media, not just on-line social media: they’re people who you know and like, so naturally more attached to their opinions than those of J. Random Twitter-Troll. But the Internet makes it that much easier for people to leave ‘drive-by’ comments without putting too much thought into it, and for arguments to escalate without any of the usual social cues that would normally allow people to regain a sense of perspective, even between friends. In situations like that, I’ve become a believer in writing my long, angry spiel and then _not_ pressing the Send button. Keep up the good work in expressing of your views in whatever medium you can – I enjoy reading your stuff, at the very least, and the handful of turkeys who comment mindlessly aren’t worth wasting your energy worrying about.

    • equineocean says:

      Thanks for your thoughts and encouragement Cameron – I think you might be right about the cathartic possibilities of having a rant and then not sending it. I’ll try that technique next time…

      Ironic that although I complain about ‘drive-by’ comments, at least we’ve got this public forum allowing us to share our views in the first place. It’s a matter of taking the good with the bad, I guess.

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