When someone is wrong on the internet…

Someone Is Wrong On The Internet! xkcd 386

I exercised considerable restraint and decorum this weekend not getting into an argument on Facebook.

My friends list on the aforementioned site has two major foci: people I know from high school and college down south (folks I met over twenty years ago), and people I know from church here in Maine (met in the last five or six years.) There are also three minor foci: people I know through my husband (within the last eight years), people I know from when I lived out west (ten to fifteen years ago) and people I know on the internet (many of whom I’ve know for ten years or more without having met in person.)

A couple of these groups have some people…. hmmm, how shall I put this? People whose political opinions, and the manner in which these opinions are most frequently expressed, I find particularly challenging.

It’s fine work, this balance: on the one hand, C’s First Rule of Social Media applies:

If you would have difficulty explaining it to your boss, clergy, significant-other, or Mom, DON’T POST IT TO FACEBOOK.

It’s a good rubric that has stopped me from putting a few stupid things on the internet. And maybe perhaps it has helped others; I’m not sure of that, but it can’t hurt – certainly it can’t hurt to be mindful of one’s electronic public face, particularly when moving into a line of work that has a public component. (Note to self, I should probably add “The local news media” to the rubric list…)

So I try to be decent, restrained, gentle and non-confrontational when expressing my political ideology in a public forum. I have never quite subscribed to my genteel mama’s adage, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all,” but I self-censor quite a bit, trying to err in the direction of keeping the flamethrower of my political convictions powered down and pointed in a neutral direction. I don’t always manage it well – occasionally my frustration or fervor burns through the facade, and — fwoosh! Rhetorical Aim-N-Flame! or sometimes just a containment failure.

But I wonder if this is really the right thing to do, this absolute restraint. Part of the work that calls me is to be a public voice – a loud, articulate, passionate public voice – for my convictions. I can’t do that while being demure and non-confrontational. I never was very good at “nice” and it takes an awful lot of work, most of the time. One of the things I think I need to learn is how to wrangle this dragon and aim its firey breath where it can burn away ignorance and shortsightedness and paranoia and greed, ideally without destroying too much that is worth saving.

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