Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Modern-Day Problem

Or at least, a modern version of an older problem.

A young man who used to work with me friend-requested me on facebook.  In the 4 years or so I knew him at work, I don't think I had heard a single political comment come out of his mouth.  We had fine conversations.  I like him.

His facebook feed is 60-70% political, and he posts 3-7 times a day.  It is not only liberal, but frequently insulting in tone.  He seems to read Vox and post what he thinks we need to read.  Lots of people use FB for this purpose, and I don't unfriend them, I just put them in the "don't follow" category.  If they get a lot of comments, sometimes one of those people's posts will come through onto my page.  Which is fine.  It's usually not too many, and it's not like I need to be sheltered from all of it.

Here's the problem.  He has cancer, and I want to keep up with how that is going, and he no longer works at my hospital.  Thus, I get a hundred articles I disagree with - not a huge deal, but irritating - plus 30-40 insults, to get one update on how he is doing and feeling. This is an echo of what happened with other people, closer to me and longer ago.  I suppose it is just Real Life, that everyone in a village or a family has had to go through for centuries.


jaed said...

Facebook is the place that has caused me to despise half my friends. (Not for their political opinions - for the self-righteous, ugly, and utterly oblivious tone.)

I don't think this is an old problem, necessarily. In the village of yore, people might be obnoxious about their opinions, but most people would moderate things face to face. Among other things, face to face you're talking to an actual person, not to the world (or your Facebook friends) at large, so there is more of a sense of politeness and less of a sense of being on stage. (The above-referenced friends would never, ever say the things in person that they do on Facebook. These are people whose political opinions were not a surprise to me at all - just the tone they take when they post.) It's also a group interaction, so mobbing dissenters becomes more likely than if you were two or three people sitting in your living room or a bar or something.

There is also some kind of problem with the interaction design. I think this is because when you post, you're talking to the wind, but when you reply, you're talking to the specific person who posted. So replies are socially inhibited but posts are not. I speculate that over time, this makes people post more nastily because they're not getting appropriate amounts of pushback from the people they're "talking to", and if you judge your own tone by the amount of pushback, this will lead to a worse tone in places like Facebook than more conversational places.

(Of course, this bit about the interaction design is also true of blogs, but I think people are more likely to think of blogs as a publishing forum and Facebook as a conversation. So they react differently to the feedback they get.)

jaed said...

There is one helpful thing, and that is, when you see a horrible post that's actually a repost from another page, you can click the down-arrow at the top right corner and choose "Hide All From [original source]". So you can do things like hide all Vox re-posts without having to unfollow the person, and see their personal posts while removing at least some of the political jabber.

james said...

The facebook interaction is abstract to begin with, and it becomes even more so if you're not addressing specific people but taking it upon yourself to teach a generic group.

Was it the Telegraph reported on a study (another study...) claiming that access to the net made people think they were more knowledgeable than they really were? Most of the political facebook stuff is prettied-up sound bites. I can count on the toes of one hand the number of posts that actually tried to do some analysis--all is catch phrases. "IFLS"--same thing.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

@ jaed. Interaction design comment is quite insightful. You're on a roll.

bs king said...

To springboard off of jaed's comment, I also would think there's some sort of upper limit to how many people we can consider at any one point. I don't do politics on Facebook, but I do put up random amusing anecdotes about my day. Not infrequently someone who never liked/commented on the post will see me in person and say something about my stories. These interactions have always been positive (mostly "oh that story you told was so funny!", but they ALWAYS throw me for a second. I realized at some point that in my head I'm only posting "at" about 10 people, and then I recognize those who jump in as well. After we've moved on, I file these interactions much like I would a conversation at a party.

Except they're not. Everyone on my friends list still potentially "heard" the exchanges.

I remember thinking about this when I saw someone get in trouble over a Facebook post blasting a few people. Those specific people were not her Facebook friends, but there was huge overlap on their friends list. Her argument was essentially that her comments were "private". In discussing it with someone else, I pointed out that she had 300 Facebook friends, at least 150 of which were also friends with the people she was criticizing. If she had gotten up in front of a room of 300 people and publicly stated her criticism, there is a zero percent chance that would message would not have been relayed. She would have known that. And yet she seemed to think that doing the same thing in writing on Facebook was "private".

I don't think our brains evolved for this.

Christopher B said...

bs king - my personal opinion about your story isn't that our minds didn't evolve to do this but that over the last few decades we've change our definition of the words "private" and "privacy". I'd say it started when the personal became political, and serious targeted mass marketing started, or thereabouts.

I think we used to view "private" information as that which was not disclosed except under very controlled circumstances, with a general recognition that anything done in a public space was by definition not private. We now view "privacy" as being more like "nondisclosure". I blame the multitude of "privacy" notices that are really descriptions of when information you know about me will or can be disclosed to third parties. In some cases people seem to go even farther and feel they have a right to prior restraint, to prevent you from disclosing information you learned in a non-private setting about them.

So I wouldn't automatically assume your friend would feel differently about posting on Facebook vs making a public statement. She might still very well feel that she was expressing a "private" opinion that the people in the room should not share without her approval.

jaed said...

bs king reminds me of Dunbar's number. (Basically this is the idea that we evolved for small-group living and therefore our social instincts start to go haywire in groups of more than 150 or so.)

A conferencing system I used to spend a lot of time on had, I think, the most successful social interactions I've ever seen. The system was a few thousand people, but most posting was done by a smaller group - there were a lot of lurkers and a lot of "mostly lurkers" who posted occasionally, but the social network was basically constructed by the group of frequent posters. (It was around 250 people, within shouting distance of Dunbar's number.) There were some attempts to expand the system, but it was the intuition of a lot of people that this wasn't possibly without greatly changing the quality of interaction for the worse, and I think this was spot on.

There's also the fact that you can't see the people who are reading your posts. If we imagine a small group, that we've interacted with, as the audience - if this is what's in our mind's eye when we post - the tone will be very different than if we're talking to all of our friends and acquaintances at once. Or to the world. We take one tone for publication and a very different one for chatting with a few friends at a party.

Sam L. said...

I got married some years back, and a few years later we moved to her home town. She told me that I should never ever speak badly or dismissingly of anyone in public, because a) it's a small town, b) there are a lot of large families, c) they have many friends and acquaintances, and d) I don't know and have no way of telling who they are.

Donna B. said...

Yes, yes, and yes to all the above comments, but my problem is keeping my fingers off the keyboard to not respond to posts giving nutrition and medical advice.

Most of my Facebook friends are also relatives. Most recently, a woman with 3 children under the age of 10 posted that she and her family were "going vegan" and why that was such a great thing and everybody should do it, etc. I finally managed to type a short, hopefully friendly, suggestion that she check with their pediatrician first.

One of the few non-relative "friends" posted a long rant about someone unnamed who was apparently posting vague suicide threats telling them to just shut up and get over it. I responded to that one and not only got de-friended, but blocked. Oh well...

Most of my Facebook time is spent in a private group of 4. It's like an unending dinner conversation with best friends and very enjoyable.