Facebook debate: productive or not?

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The other night there was a minor skirmish on facebook between some people I care about and in the midst of feeling unhappy on everyone’s behalf, I told John, “Facebook is the only place where my friends fight.”  Maybe that’s a bit melodramatic– people can argue without it being World War 3.  But the incident got me thinking facebook might not be the place for conversations that change minds.

First of all, lots of people are sensitive to being embarrassed in public, and being told ‘you’re wrong’ on your wall in front of a few hundred friends, even the facebook type, usually makes folks (and those who love them) a mite defensive.  Yes, sometimes people are just.so.wrong that it makes you grit your teeth.  And sometimes an issue is legitimately, truly important. But I still think to actually change minds, the topic is best broached privately and gently by someone who has a real relationship with that person– you know, someone  you know well enough to have already chatted in a friendly way about other issues.  This is especially important if the issue is important. The reason most folks enter into debates is because we DO want to sway someone’s opinion, right?  Why not be wise and gentle and relational? The vast majority of the time, it is only within the context of relationship that we’ll be able to sway hearts anyway.

What I’ve noticed with facebook debates is that they just cause people to take sides, aligning themselves with what they already believe, and whoever they are already most loyal to. Are hearts ever swayed? Occasionally, maybe. I doubt it’s the norm, however. People tend to cling to their own beliefs.  They tend to be less kind in expressing their feelings when not face to face.

Don’t misunderstand me: I have plenty of strongly-held beliefs, about faith and morality and breastfeeding and circumcision and immunization, and all sorts of other highly debatable topics. I’ll give you my opinion on those things if you ask me.  And you’ll be able to guess some of them without asking me by reading what I post on facebook.  (Tho please don’t assume I agree with everything a blogger espouses just because I shared something that resonates with me in some way.)

But there’s a big difference between stating your own belief on your own wall or blog and shooting down something that someone else shares on their own wall, especially in the way it feels to the recipient. If I read something on your wall that doesn’t jive with what I believe, I’ll think about it, and decide whether that information offers a valid reason to reconsider my beliefs.  But if you lambast me on my own page, I may be so busy feeling defensive that it may be hard for me to even consider the legitimacy of your point.

I understand that sometimes folks feel compelled to speak because they don’t want an untruth to stand unchallenged and be believed by more people. But even in that case, we need the utmost of humility and love. And Christians– shouldn’t our words be seasoned with the sweet aroma of Jesus’ love?  There are folks out there watching, wondering if Jesus really makes a difference in people’s live.When Christians  (or no-Christians) are out there picking apart each others’ beliefs with a magnifying glass, I think the love kinda gets lost, even if true concern for the other person is what led you to speak in the first place.

I understand that there are folks who love a good argument and see debate as a healthy way to hone and challenge our beliefs.  I’ll be honest about my bias here: despite some of the conversations I have with my 15 year old kids, I’m not a debater. I hate fighting, always have. Overall, I tend to value relationships more highly than my right to disagree publicly with someone. So all that plays into my feelings. But most of the time on facebook, I don’t see minds changing.  I see hurt happening.  And that makes me sad.

What do you think?  Are facebook debates more likely to change minds or wound relationships?  What do you think are important components of a constructive and thought-provoking discussion?  Can it be done on facebook?

{ 7 Comments }

  1. I avoid saying anything if the original post was inflammatory. Some friends have been able to have civil discussions by making it clear that they will delete it if it devolves into name calling, threats, etc. She gas had to delete a few, but her friends for the most part have learned to respect each other.

    • Sounds like a reasonable policy. I’ve been really blessed by the folks who comment here— I think I’ve had to delete MAYBE 2 comments out of thousands since I started blogging in 2006.

  2. FB is rarely productive. I will occasionally comment if there’s a fairly reasonable discussion going, but my goal is more to speak to those who might be swayed by the “wrong” side 😉 (I put wrong in quotes for brevity; you know what I mean. The side I’m not on) Usually, though, my thoughts are more nuanced and have broader repercussions I would want to include than can fit in just a few characters, and I much prefer to have discussions in person. Like you.
    Sometimes I truly hate FB.

  3. Preface my remark by saying I am not on facebook, twitter, jingle, or whatever the latest way to talk with people is. I do not own a cell phone, have a computer at my house, nor do I want any and none of my minor children are allowed to be on facebook or any social media, have a cell phone or use a cell phone. We have numerous conversations about this and they wholeheartedly agree with this decision seeing all the bulllying and ‘creepy’ people that have tried to contact their friends.
    That’s because talking with people should be face to face because you can see the body reactions, facial expressions, and general reaction a person has to what you have to say. Commenting in a blog, such as this, is a bit different because we know that we are living all over the United States and thus the ONLY way we can communicate and set up in that manner.
    But these other mediums of communication are supposed to be limited to people you already know from church, family, neighbors, work, school, etc.- they are not supposed to be strangers; you are supposed to have physically met them and developed a friendship with them. So why not call them or invite them to dinner and have physical time with them.
    Also there is another very real problem with these social media accounts and that is — they are not private — EVER. Anything a person writes or pictures that are transmitted are public domain forever and ever and ever and ever. We try to warn people of this but I don’t think most of us really get this concept. If you send a comment to Mary, she can then send it on to Sue, who can send it on to Joan and before you know it – what you thought was a private conversation between yourself and Mary has now spanned four states!
    As for Twitter, etc. Don’t really understand it but I don’t need to know that Joan is going to Henry’s for lunch and what they had…. No one does.
    And don’t forget the pictures. Some of these are harmless and in good fun but others are meant to be private and as recent political candidates can tell you – THEY NEVER ARE. A person can store your private pictures and use them at any given time, on any given day, in any given year for whatever purpose they want. And heard there is an app that deletes private pictures in 10 seconds but nothing says that the person on the other side doesn’t have another phone in preparation to take that picture and store on another phone!!
    I have a very strict requirement in my home and that is that all cell phones are put in a basket on the counter and left there until a person leaves, no one is to post pictures of my minor children on any social media ever or of myself.
    Facebook, and any of these social media locations are just to ripe for predators to find information about anyone for anything and I try my best to keep my children as safe as humanly possible. If you have not already guessed it, NOT a fan of any social media platforms rather talk with people in my family,, community, church, work, etc. face to face or via land-line phone.
    Now here is a topic for a debate but will it change anyone’s mind on this topic and cause them to close out all their social media accounts, probably not.

  4. Facebook is my soapbox of late. I had an account for a while, but deleted it about three years ago.

    As far as debates on facebook, I think they may be appropriate on certain pages. Any organization or political group can put up a page on which they post things regarding their point of view. These are public groups, posting in a pubic place, and I think debate is valid there. However, I think debate should always be respectful. This kind of debate will not change the mind of the poster, but there are hundreds of people reading who may not have yet formed an opinion.

    But I think what you are really referring to is personal pages, when “friends” go at it over conflicting ideas. I completely agree that embarrassing someone in a public forum like facebook is a lousy way to win them over. It is more likely to alienate and offend, if not deeply hurt her. People seem rather uninhibited on facebook, typing and publishing things they probably wouldn’t say face-to-face. Sometimes it is something they would say in person, but without facial expressions, tone of voice, body language, and all else which enriches human communication. So much can be lost in translation.

  5. Lisa Beth W. says:

    I really agree with you, Mary.

  6. I have and ONLY will get into a “debate” if/when both sides provide a reasonable response and support their argument without resorting to insults and/or otherwise negative comments.