Social media, online friendship, and the politics of negation

I have a lot of contacts on social media. Most of them, I admit, I don’t know. Many people tell me (scoldingly it feels at times) that I share too much, trust too much, and I react with a degree of defensiveness at their inhibited caution.Many of my contacts, so sluttishly added and so seldom vetted, have blossomed into real friendship, ‘likes’ becoming comments, and comments becoming suggestions to meet, until finally a real friend exists. Through social media I have made invaluable contacts, and I have been able to access photographs of long forgotten memories. And social media allows us to have a voice, does it not, a place to vent and to share our peeves and to let off steam. Which is good. To a point perhaps. It is often suggested that in polite company it is not done to discuss religion or politics. I seldom paid this much heed as these are two fascinating subjects, quite worthy of discussion and so vital. And yet…..I have started to feel under seige. Party politics is one thing, the politics of negation another, and so often the political is personal, very personal. Social media friendships are peppered with posts about issues over which we do not agree, and that is all a good test of tolerance. Irritation with the council, rage at government spending costs, ruffled feathers over a by-election, and of course Europe and beyond are all things on which we can learn from each other. I am not a closed minded man and I do listen to the views of others and at times change my thinking as a result. But then comes the politics of negation, the political voices that seek to strip me of my rights. At which point the person expressing the opinion, sharing it, giving it a platform, is acting directly against my own interests, and in a way, they have become an enemy. I am a gay man, and during the debate on same-sex marriage I found myself reacting with disgust and rage at the posts some contacts were sharing, glibly, without thought of the personal pain they caused me. It is a hideous thing to be told your marriage is not equal or valid, and it hurts like hell and it reeks of betrayal when it comes from the mouth or pen of a “friend.” I decided then that I would need to unfriend those propagating such views as their stance had become incompatible with who I am as a human being. The conflict in Gaza and Israel has also stoked tempers and generated a volley of status updates that are unappetizing to me, on both sides. And I have chosen at times to unfollow rather than unfriend, as I wish to retain the contact but find the divergence of opinion on a subject that matters to me so deeply, to be stressful and unpleasant. Live and let live certainly, but for that maxim to work, first I need to be let to live, and not to have my existence questioned, nor my rights to equality dismissed, and I need to be who I am. I have lost seven friends in as many days, invariably when a line has been crossed, when a core value has been assailled and when I feel that I cannot be myself with that contact anymore without hiding my past life experience, or changing or betraying what I am and what I stand for. This has occured mostly with people commeting in a disrepectful way on my own status updates, with words of scorn not respect, with pithy soundbites that have left me burning with impotent anger, and wanting to scream “this is my real life you are dismissing so blithly.” It has occured when I see friends liking groups called ‘I hate (x marks the spot of something you are). Homophobia, anti-Semitism, racism, crass sexism, all are issues upon which I would need to evaluate whether an online friendship can continue, as respect needs to be present in any friendship, virtual or face to face. Maybe my critics were right. Perhaps I do add others too quickly to my circle, allowing them to see into my life, and thus make myself vulnerable. Perhaps social media is best when limited to immediate friends. Or perhaps the occasional jab of betrayal and flash of anger are prices worth paying. But in all instances I feel it is best to avoid the politics of betrayal, to shy away from status updates that make others feel under attack, on a very personal level. When you decry the right of women to control their own fertility, perhaps spare a thought for those women who have made choices about termination and how your views might really hurt them. When you rage against foreigners or muslims or Jews or Eastern Europeans, just how many people are you upsetting, how many of their friends and colleagues and family members? When you wade into the politics of foreign lands, do you truly understand the pain and trauma others might have experienced there, what their personal narratives are, what their history has meant to them? Perhaps then, it is best not to engage in the politics of negation online. You never really know who you are hurting. 


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