In recent months, I have noticed a discouraging escalation of rudeness on Facebook.  Not that there wasn’t contention before, but recently, it seems pandemic.

Most of the rudeness involves differences in opinions, particularly around politics and religion.  It’s hard for me to understand how anyone can feel justified in launching personal attacks against others, simply because they disagree.  Disagreement is being viewed as a threat, rather than as an opportunity to look for the commonality and work toward the common good.  Honestly, how can we create peace, if we can’t be nice to each other as individuals?

It’s great that more people are getting political.  What isn’t so great is people becoming more polarized and unwilling to listen to one another.  There is a perception that if someone disagrees with you, they are an ignorant jerk and need to be set straight, and people use this to justify nasty, rude behavior.  Manners are cast aside, as people say things to one another online that they wouldn’t dream of saying to someone’s face.  It’s kind of like the notion that if you are driving down the road in your car, nobody will notice you picking your nose.  They do, and when you are rude online, you are still rude!

The effects of social media on society, and the rules of engagement, are still being defined.  So in the interest of creating a more peaceful environment on Facebook and other social media, I offer these thoughts:

“I can’t hear you because you won’t stop yelling…”
Having a strong opinion and voicing it is great!  However, bombarding people with a dozen angry memes a day, about the same contentious issue (guns seem to be the hot one right now) is not going to make anyone say, “Aha, I suddenly agree with you!”  It’s wise to scan through your posts and see if you notice a general air of negativity.  Others might not want to tell you, especially if you come across as already hostile.  If most of your posts are insulting entire groups of people, those people are not the problem, YOU are.  Which brings me to…

If you can’t say anything nice…
Your mom was right.  I see things literally every day that disgust me on Facebook.  I will NOT go to that person’s page, and make nasty, mean-spirited remarks.  It would make them feel horrible, and bring me down.  I can block that person’s comments and posts, I can politely put up a differing opinion, or if this person is upsetting me daily with their posts, I can delete them.  Insults, obscenities, and personal attacks made grown adults look like elementary students in a schoolyard fight (sorry, elementary students).  Plus, when we make someone “wrong,” we don’t give them the opportunity to change their mind gracefully.

Tell the truth!
And by that, I mean find out if it’s true before you put it up.   Youtube videos of someone ranting do not count as evidence of anything.  If you discover something you posted is false, it’s simple to remove it.  I recently pointed out to someone (off-line) that the hateful quote they posted was attributed wrongly to someone who would never say it.  They left it up because they liked the quote and it supported their belief system.  This is a quick way to lose credibility.

It’s my Facebook, and I’ll post what I want to!  (You are welcome for getting that song stuck in your head.)  Just because I hate something someone posted, doesn’t mean they don’t have the right to post it!  Enough said.

Assume good intentions (toward you and society)
Someone who has a differing political or religious opinion from you isn’t necessarily evil or “trying to destroy America!”  I seriously can’t believe some of the accusations that have been thrown at me, and not even by strangers!   I have plenty of friends on Facebook whose belief systems differ from mine, and yet we are still able to be friends and be kind to one another.  We recognize that we are all good people, who want the best for our country and our world; we just have differing opinions about how to accomplish that.  There's no need to feel threatened by differing opinions.

Let them be “wrong”
I put “wrong” in quotes because (surprise, surprise) we’re not always right!  If I went around “correcting” everyone I disagreed with on Facebook, I’d have time for little else!  I dislike engaging in public, online battles with people.  I like to debate, but respect is the bottom line.  When people say things like, “If you don’t agree with me, you should just move to another country,” I realize I am dealing with someone for whom “winning” is more important than communicating, and I usually walk away from the conversation, rather than waste my time and theirs.  Sometimes it’s best to let it go.

“Delete” is there for a reason
I almost never delete anyone.  My personal style is more to contact that person off-line about something I find offensive.  I’m less worried about what people post to their own page, than something they post to mine.  But sometimes there comes a point when you can see that everything this person posts is annoying and upsetting you... and they have that right.  Doesn’t mean you have to continue to be annoyed.  Sometimes deleting someone is best.   You can still have a relationship them that doesn’t include Facebook.  So...

What’s more important: the issue or the relationship?
In my senior year of high school, I became close with Donna, my guidance counselor.  Donna had cancer, and died shortly after graduation.  About three years later, I was in a failing marriage, and my husband, son, and I were staying with my parents.  My husband and I had a heated argument one day, and to avoid yelling and interrupting one another, we decided to write each other notes.  I dug out an old spiral notepad I had apparently used in high school.  As I flipped through it looking for a blank page to vent on, my eyes landed on the following words: “What’s more important, the issue or the relationship?  Your friend, Donna.”  The argument was forgotten, but Donna’s word were not.  I didn’t remember her having written that in my notebook, but it was her handwriting, and the message was clear: don’t sweat the small stuff.  If you are attacking loved ones for belonging to a different religion or political party, you are forgetting to LOVE them.

Create a drama-free zone
There are better ways to get attention than to vent about every hassle or disagreement in your world… like deal directly with the person who upset you.  Posting angry vents about roommates, spouses, etc. on Facebook is like yelling about your family in the middle of the grocery store.  What better way to humiliate someone, make yourself look like a complete buffoon, and still not resolve the issue?  Take the high road, and remember that once you post it on the internet, it’s there forever.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T
Isn’t this what it all comes down to?  My friend Deb used to refer to the “Platinum Rule.”  The Golden Rule says to treat others as you would like to be treated.  Not everyone takes kindly to being “corrected,” no matter how politely you try to do it.  One friend might enjoy a little verbal jousting, while another might be completely hurt and insulted.  So it’s not about how YOU want to be treated, but taking the time to get to know people, and understand how THEY want to be treated.  THAT’S the Platinum Rule, otherwise known as empathy.

Um, it’s just Facebook!
And isn’t this the bottom line?  While I really value my peace campaign on Facebook, it’s the daily things we do… reaching out to comfort others, sharing, doing little acts of kindness, that create true peace.  No matter how many posts I put up about peace, if I am rude and hateful offline, it’s pointless.  At the end of the day, if all of your friends are virtual ones, and you find yourself lying awake, worrying about Facebook, it might be time to turn off the computer.  Go visit a real live person, in person, or even pick up the phone and hear a human voice.  See a real smile, instead of an emoticon.  Or actually “laugh out loud” with an actual friend.  You’ll feel better, and you’ll be reminded that while Facebook is a handy tool for communication, it’s no substitute for real human connections.