Facebook has this little “intro” segment you can fill in on your profile. If you’re even remotely garrulous you’ll feel just how small it is. You basically have room for a conservative sentence or maybe two.
If you wanted to use the opportunity to set boundaries, you’d be hard pressed to do more than just ask people not to be jerks. Sometimes you’ll have more to say than that. Owing to weirdos on social media, too often I find myself feeling precisely this way. Maybe it’s the same for you too.
So this is possibly how you’ve wound up reading this post. I’ll be sending others this way in future, too.
Like most people I don’t use Facebook automation. And I’ve been shy of accepting new friend requests for some time now. In fact I’ve blocked most of the people who’ve sent me requests in the past four years.
I’ve been thinking of opening things back up again, only this time without setting myself up to have to repeat myself each time nonsense flairs up. Hence this post.
For some reason I don’t get shouted at much anymore. I’m not sure why. Deep down among the minutiae of any number of topics, I hold what could be construed as controversial views – the kinds of things I’ve seen numerous other people scolded for. I’m good friends with more than one of the scolded. None of this has been secret.
A number of us conform to a particular pattern within the category of “politically homeless”; left-wing values; a disinterest in left-wing tribalism; an unwillingness to seek a new tribe in either the right or the reactionary center; a respect for critical inquiry and a willingness to commit to what and wherever that inquiry leads.
But oh. The kinds of friend requests this can encourage. If only I could stave some of them off with a few more words of warning, or at least lay down some ground rules in advance.
The moment you become politically homeless, suddenly you’re the potential ally… of weirdos.
Criticize the Clinton dynasty; get Bernie Bros and Jill Stein cultists crawling up your ass. Shine a light on the worst naivetes of little-l liberalism; wind up with a New Best Friend who thinks conspiracy theories about Monsanto are the apex of radicalism. Condemn Likud; get a friend request from the asshole with Rothschild memes running down their timeline. Criticize some technical or civic aspect of anti-racism politics; wind up with the racially-paranoid white guy who thinks you’re “just like” him in an imaginary shared oppression. Point out the mere existence of misogyny or homophobia in Islam; wind up with an acolyte of the Q-Society spruiking their crap at you.
Do anything remotely resembling courting controversy in good faith, and you’ll attract contrarians with delusions of Galileohood.
“I SOLVED ALL OF POLITICS WHILE HUFFING LEAD FUMES IN MY SHED!!1! MALCOLM ROBERTS WAS RIGHT ABOUT SOCIALISM!”
Of course it’s not just the weirdos drawn in by controversy or subculture membership or whatever else. Your friends can always argue among themselves and sometimes poorly; misunderstand each other; jump to conclusions about each other’s motives and so on. And of course, with each salvo you’ll get the pleasure of yet another social media notification.
Friends arguing with friends is fine. Friends using your space to burn each other down is not. Finding yourself politically homeless can leave you wide open in this respect, and it’s a good deal harder to manage when it goes off; you can’t always dismiss this kind of thing as easily as you can the anti-fluoride trolls.
Here’s the deal, then.
The odds are that a good number of the people on my friends list are people that I trust more than you. This won’t change just because on some specific points I may agree with you more than I agree with them.
As of writing, most of the people on my friends list have had the opportunity to demonstrate that while not perfect, they have, on balance, preferred to act in good faith. In the instances where they’ve opted to be pissy, they’ve opted to be pissy somewhere other than on my timeline and I respect that.
By accepting your friend request I’m not obligating myself to be your pal, much less your ideological underling. I’ve been accused of being “tuned in” or “with it” before, but I’m not making any promises. And it’s only my small neck of the woods anyway. It’s not like my antics are derailing discussion on the page of some important cause.
Just because I’m political doesn’t alter the fact that my personal space is not an organ of your political campaign. I’m not ceding you that much. I wouldn’t cede that much to my best friend.
While you’re commenting on my timeline, be as critical as you want of a given school of thought, only, try not to be condescending, or to presume authority if you haven’t even bothered to do your homework. (In fact, presuming authority even if you have done the readings isn’t particularly endearing – nobody likes that douche).
A lot of my closest friends are people who read and who’ve been reading for a long time. Spurious quotations of political authors you clearly haven’t read yourself probably won’t end well, and I’ll not rescue you from your embarrassment. (Yes “intersectionalists”, I’m looking at a lot of you).
Sass is fine. Sarcasm and satire are welcome. Abuse is not. Vex is not.
You can call a fascist a fascist, but don’t cry wolf about it on my wall. Radical feminists are not Nazis, “Nazi adjacent” or any kind of fascist.
Be as critical as you want of the idea of gender, but save insults like “tranny” for somewhere else. No matter how just the specifics of a given dispute you’re fighting may be, it’ll never make my timeline a space for vindictiveness.
And yeah, some things are always going to be out-of-bounds.
If you’re an anti-vaxxer, anti-Semite or flat-Earther; please just go away. Believers in Satanic conspiracy theories can catch the same bus.
Angry at women? Bye.
I may be vegan, technically, but that doesn’t mean members of any of the various vegan cults out there are people I respect.
“Gary Yourofsky has just been misunder…”
“Actually, PETA are…”
Paleo-cultists can keep their pseudo-science and cod-anthropology to themselves as well.
If you’ve got five thousand friends, or you’re desperately aiming for that target, I’m probably very much not interested in your stuff either. I’m probably going to ignore you after I accept your friend request. No offense meant, but really…
Would-be public figures and artists who present as activists: by default I trust you less than the average person. Accept it. Or don’t. Just don’t complain to me about it.
And if you don’t like any of it, you don’t have to send me a friend request in the first place.
Fortunately a good number of people get this. It’s not always so glum, even on social media. It’s just there are narcissists out there in this world who view social media as their own stalking grounds, who will spoil things for others if given half the chance.
I don’t intend on giving them that much.