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Social Media, the Left, and the Collapse of Civility

Not having the constitutional chops of the rest of the writers on WWTFT, I’ve been reticent to contribute, despite Martin’s blandishments. So I limit my offerings to that which I know well and what can one know better than to report from personal experience?

In the face of sound advice from friends wiser than I, I have been a Facebook user going on four years now. Facebook does not provide a scaffolding for my existence, nor does it provide me with a surrogate social life, as it does for so many. Rather, I use it to keep up with and communicate with friends scattered around the world. I’ve been fortunate to have a varied and interesting life – working for the government as a civilian, serving in the Army, and spending nearly 20 years with one foot in academia, not to mention having traveled to about 30 countries, some of them not very pleasant. So naturally, I’ve managed to accumulate a likewise varied and interesting set of friend and acquaintances, many of whom also use Facebook. And those friends sport a wide variety of political views.

I’m a former conservative turned libertarian – more accurately, a constitutional libertarian – as I think the founders had a pretty good handle on what government is for and how much of it is enough. I naturally spend a lot of time on Facebook discussing various political issues. Most of those discussions remain relatively benign. Sometimes there is agreement; sometimes there is some good-natured sniping back and forth; and sometimes things get heated. With the election approaching, things have shifted away from agreement and toward less-than-good-natured sniping and NASA-level heat. The following are some particularly good examples, taken from Facebook threads over the last few weeks:

Quote 1. In response to my posting a link to the video from OPSEC, a group of ex intelligence professionals and special operations soldiers who are critical of the Obama administration for leaking classified information:

“In my experience, you put the worst construction on everything the President says or does and you believe anything that tears him down, most recently, the “reports” from the stunningly dishonorable and unpatriotic Swiftboaters in the latest well-funded anti-Obama propaganda video, whose words are directly contradicted by the testimony of distinguished and honorable men like Robert Gates and ADM McRaven who were intimately involved in the bin Laden raid. Your claims about his views of what America should be are also patently silly. Obama has governed largely like a moderate Republican from the 1990s, but the GOP has lurched so far to the right that Reagan himself would be drummed out of the party as a RINO.”


Naturally, the person in question does not consider John Kerry protesting the war while still serving in uniform as an officer in the Navy Reserve to be “dishonorable” or “unpatriotic”, regardless of which charges brought by the “Swiftboaters” may have held water – no pun intended. Not to mention that the person who wrote this knows of my military and government service and knows me to be in agreement with the OPSEC video. Thus, I could not take his comments as anything other than calling me likewise “dishonorable” and “unpatriotic”.

Quote 2. In response to my claim that invoking an FDR quote about helping the poor to somehow support Obama didn’t mean much if the poor aren’t actually helped. Here I provided a purely economic argument that minimum wage laws increase unemployment especially among those most in need of income and job experience:

“Bill, you’re arguing that FDR’s “slogan” is empty and unaccompanied by principle. Then on some other post you’re arguing Obama has a big ego. No shit, he’s a politician who won the presidency. Big Surprise. You’re a moron. Positively. Please, by all means, keep arguing that minimum wage is a bad thing. Please be as vocal as you can, tell lots of people. While you’re at it, tell everyone why you think money trumps all other concerns, why you think Social Darwinism is the way to go, and how you plan to explain this to your children.”

Here, on one hand we had a reasoned, dispassionate argument about the economic effects of minimum wage laws, and on the other, we have an unsupported claim that minimum wage laws are good.

Quote 3. In response to my finding fault in a published article about the “arsenal” possessed by the shooter in College Station, TX in the recent episode there in which an officer was killed:

“Bill, just go and bloody well shoot yourself. The world will be a better place.”,

and later:

“I need to explain myself better, clearly. I have known Bill for quite a few years and, as he says, our relationship has been cordial. But I never talked to him about this (or indeed any political) issue. I new feel rather like I would if I had discovered him to be a proud Nazi.”


I could go on, but you get the idea by now. The thing is, two of these people (quotes 1 and 3) I know well and consider(ed) to be friends. Both are eminent academicians. The other person I only know via mutual friends on Facebook; he is a musician from Massachusetts.

What brings intelligent people to say such things that can only be described as hateful?  Is it their political world view?  Or is it social media, services like Facebook and Twitter, which make it easy to dump whatever happens to be on ones mind at the moment with ultimate ease, making it easier for emotions to play a bigger role in discourse and thus for conversations that begin benignly to spiral out of control?

It doesn’t matter. There are two things I have learned from this experience. First, I have learned that it is a waste of time and effort to seek accommodation with those on the hard left. Any failure to adopt their views wholesale or at offering an argument that might upset their views is met with hostility. Second, I have learned to stop using social media to discuss politics. That token gesture will do little to stem the increasing tide of hate in political discourse, but at least I won’t be part of it any longer.


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