When Hillary Clinton clinched the Democratic nomination in June, one of my Facebook friends posted that, in the name of history and feminism, it behooved us to admit Hillary’s greatness and get behind the first female presidential nominee from a major party.
I wanted to reply: “Would you be saying this if Sarah Palin were nominated? Would that be a great day for women and feminism?”
I wanted to reply: “Is this the same Hillary Clinton who was against gay marriage until most of the country wasn’t? Whose surrogates tried to tell millennial women they weren’t feminists if they supported Bernie? Who last spring credited Nancy Reagan for raising awareness of AIDS in the ‘80s?”
“Do you realize,” I wanted to reply, “you’re talking about the most corporately entangled, secretive and scripted candidate we’ve ever seen?”
But I didn’t.
It’s now November and I still haven’t taken the bait of engaging in politics on Facebook. As problematic as Clinton is, she pales beside the galloping disaster of Donald Trump. Posting about him would be like shooting fish in a barrel. But I think I can make it through Election Day.
The friend who anointed Clinton a saint is intelligent, a writer, but Facebook makes us all stupid. Political exchanges on that site prove to be as regrettable as when you got into it last Thanksgiving with that relative Barack Obama calls your Uncle Harry – “you still love him, but you don’t want to put him in charge of stuff.” Facebook is a daily, and even more chaotic, Thanksgiving table.
That crazy uncle can be any clown trolling from nowhere.
More likely, though, the one having a political upheaval will be one of your “friends,” a friend who became a friend due to a random Facebook feed that isn’t random. Facebook employs a “trending” algorithm that gauges our political leanings based on a slew of demographics, along with what we “like” and repost. It uses that information to keep us each in an echo chamber of like opinion, thereby magnetizing users to its website.
This eerily mirrors the self-congratulatory cultures of Fox News and MSNBC, not to mention the various factions in Congress, hopelessly tone-deaf to the nation outside the Beltway.
The friends we have in our actual lives are not quite themselves online, especially when they encounter a fundamental difference of opinion in their Facebook bubble – maybe from you. When they zealously link you to this video or that news report, in an attempt to get you to “open your mind,” you might retaliate with a link to this documentary, or that quip, which is sure to irritate them, and the negativity escalates from there. I know a woman contemplating cutting off her entire family, all because of pro-Trump Facebook posts.
But what I bristle at most – and where my political restraint on Facebook comes from – is the idea of telling other people how to vote. That’s just disrespectful. Our right to vote for whom we want, as well as our right not to disclose that, is sacred. “What makes you think you can tell me who to vote for?” I say on the phone to any number of campaign volunteers each election season.
In 2004, I volunteered for the Kerry campaign in the predominantly black districts in Duval County, Fla., where tens of thousands of votes were thrown out four years before. I rented a van at the Jacksonville airport and showed up at Kerry headquarters. When they asked me to work the phones, and I declined, the other volunteers gawked in puzzlement.
“What are you doing here,” said one, a retired New York lawyer, “if you’re not trying to get people to vote for Kerry?” I used that van to drive people to the polls. Most of my passengers were elderly black women. After they voted, I took them for a free meal at a nearby church, then drove them home. I never asked about their politics, though on one occasion I overheard this exchange in the backseat:
“Who’d you vote for, Betty?”
“Don’t matter who I vote for, God’s gonna win.”
What if we had the kind of respect for one another that Betty has for God? And what if we showed that respect by not trying to tell one another whom to vote for? Good information about the candidates is crucial, and I’m all for good dialogue, but that’s not what Facebook is about.
Facebook is more about “liking,” “unfriending,” and clicking away inside our bubble – which is turning us all into crazy Uncle Harry.
Diana Goetsch is a writer in New York. She wrote this for the Philadelphia Inquirer. Readers may email her at email@example.com.