How to Get Unfriended

From the blog Arabic Literature

The transformation of Facebook from a message board of romantic statuses into a pop culture newspaper has put us at odds with each other.

There was the 2012 Chik-fila imbroglio over their support of organizations that do not pay benefits to gay couples. And the run up to the 2008 and 2012 US presidential elections which brought mudslinging onto your handheld, causing many people swearing off Facebook until December. In both instances, people, formerly known as friends, were having debates, exchanges, and unfriending based on wall posts.

And now, this summer, during the most recent conflict in Gaza, has interrupted the deluge of wedding-engagement-holiday updates. Israel-Palestine has long been a polarizing issue – even before the advent of Facebook. Debate continues to rage on the nightly news as well as on personal media networks about Gaza, Hamas, Israel, and rights. As the physical conflict increases, so have reactions and interactions online. Living in the Middle East and being on vacation in the United States has meant I’m watching the conflicting opinions from both sides. I’m also realizing how little common ground there is online in the case of longstanding conflicts such as this one.

“My response to someone who told me they did not want to be friends anymore based on my posts on Gaza” popped on my timeline when I was contemplating the social fray that Gaza was e about the cost of sharing her opinion on Facebook. She went on to say: “Sharing those posts was and still is very important to me, because there is a humanitarian crisis going on now and I feel obligated to spread awareness regarding it.  I am sorry if my posts have caused you to feel offended, but I have not shared them to offend you and am not ashamed of my beliefs and opinions.” The meditation on the boundary between expression and tolerance was probably lost on her friend who had probably stopped following her posts.

I’ve also been sharing about Gaza, and the disproportionate amount of violence being used, wondering if any of my US friends would object.

Another friend posted a 3 a.m. rumination about the conflict: “Tonight as I sit in silence my heart aches for the mothers and fathers that lost their children and will never again experience a “day”with their son or daughter. My heart aches for Palestine and Israel. How does killing a child justify anything?”  

An immediate response to her post was telling: “What’s your heart aching for Israel for? Things are NOT equal to be saying this.”

She then replied within a few minutes: “It aches for the Israelies that want peace and want the killings to stop. They are not being heard. We are not being heard. It’s awful.”

I went to Gaza in 2012 as part of the Palestine Festival of Literature. I had the chance to see one of the most populated places on earth first hand: we helped have the first musical concert in a over ten years.

What I saw mostly was people trying to live normal lives with bullet ridden buildings all around them and a democratically elected government trying to maintain its power base.

If we can’t talk about the world in social media, then why be social at all?  What do you think: is it better to keep it simple and to personal events or engage in current events online? Or do the rules of civility for in person conversations apply to online discourse? No politics, no religion, or anything of interest?


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Reader Comments

  1. JC Andrijeski

    I struggle with this all the time, actually. Not only because of the inherent limitations of trying to have these discussions online, where things are so easily misunderstood and so weirdly polarized, as you say…(and hella quick to go off the rails and/or get feasted on by trolls, I might add). Also because as a writer, my opinions are more “public” than they used to be, and I struggle with what might be the balance between saying things overtly versus having the ability to do so through my fiction, which I feel (personally) is probably significantly more effective, in terms of getting people to look at things from different angles. While I don’t write politics at all, apart from the occasional nonfiction piece, I do feel I try to express a more humanitarian sentiment through my fiction in general, although without in any way striving to make that “political.”

    But yeah, it’s difficult. There are definitely times where it feels wrong to remain silent, but in the cacophony online, it’s hard to feel like it has much effect to speak out, too.

    • Mohana

      Balance is key: and as writers we can weigh on issues we feel strongly about – otherwise what’s our role in society as gathering points or thought leaders? Murky ground but more important than ever.

  2. Scott Bury

    I think using Facebook and other social media to have meaningful dialogue is far preferable to restricting communication in any way. The problem is that it seems to be getting harder and harder to have rational discussions. The major traditional media aren’t helping, with less rational and more emotional ranting passing for news and political commentary.

    It may be futile to say this, but if we could read and think about any communication before making a judgement about it, we may all be able to move forward.

    I’m not hopeful, though, because this same battle has been fought for centuries. As many people have said, if you want different results, do something different. The fact that all sides in Palestine/Israel keep doing the same thing, decade after decade, tells me they don’t want things to change.

    • Mohana

      Not futile at all Scott. If we hope to progress as a species, the majority has to stand up and say enough to those niche parties who gain from longstanding conflicts. Israel-Palestine is a proxy for so many complex global political interests and we have let it go on far too long. Hopefully now the international community is beginning to see the people behind the curtain so to speak.

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