I’m just a cop, and a retired one at that, so there are days I spend copious amounts of time online. A considerable amount of that time is devoted to debating with people in a closed Facebook group. A closed Facebook group is a group that requires an admin of the group to accept you. Anyone can request membership into the group and anyone in the group can invite someone else to join. Only members of the group can post comments in the discussion. What is the purpose of the group? To discuss things. If I had a dollar for every time someone said to me, “Why do you waste your time arguing and debating with people on Facebook? There is no point, you are never going to change their minds!”, I’d have a couple of thousand extra dollars in the bank. Well, I hope I can shed some light on that question and refute that statement.
Let me begin by saying, I sometimes do ask myself, “What’s the point?” I sometimes do feel like the time I spend deliberating and rebutting points and counterpoints with other people online is ineffectual. It lacks the human element of face to face conversation, the personal interaction, the ability to hear inflection, and to see the facial as well as body gestures of the person you are communing with. This sometimes causes misunderstanding as anyone who converses with people online, or even texts people often, knows. Many times the way you intended something to mean isn’t always interpreted that way. Sadly, many times people are emboldened by this lack of person to person aspect, and they say or behave in ways that they would most likely not were you looking them in eye. It can be extremely frustrating at times, and sometimes, downright disheartening. So what’s the point?
Debating on Facebook, for me, sharpens not only my writing skills, but strengthens the opinions and positions I hold because when you make an unclear comment online, you are usually asked for clarification almost immediately. Take for example what happened to me the other day. I was involved with a discussion about Bernie Sanders, and the “type of man he was”. As is often the case in online discussions, the topic meandered slightly, and we started discussing some of the issues he holds rather than the man himself. The topic of why America has more people incarcerated than most other countries was brought up, and I made a statement that “America has more freedom than any other country”. Now, in my mind, I knew more or less what I meant (or so I thought at the time), but another member of the group, Stan, replied, ” Obviously for the people being incarcerated they don’t have more freedom than any other country.”
My first reaction was, “It means exactly what I said, America has more freedom that most other countries in the worlds.” But then I started to think about it, and I realized that I wasn’t clearly expressing my complete thought. Yes, America does have more freedom than most countries, but why would that contribute to there being more people being incarcerated? I gave it some thought, and realized that what I perhaps meant to say was because people have more freedom in America, they tend to be more resistant to restraints on that freedom, more likely to disobey restrictions on them, and thus more likely to be incarcerated. Then I came to the conclusion that even what I should have said was a terribly weak point, having no evidence to support it whatsoever. There in lies one of the ironies of debating online: on the one hand people sometimes behave inappropriately because of the lack of eye contact, but on the other hand this lack of eye contact, this sense of security, empowers them. Thus I find debating online often yields considerably more frequent and fervent opposition to my position. This is a good thing, because challenge and opposition to your views not only gives you the opportunity to hear new thoughts and ideas, it helps strengthen your convictions through vigorous defense and explanation of them. Sometimes it even makes you realize that on occasion, you make little sense. It humbles you.
The Internet also allows for a much higher volume of people actually engaging in a discussion. There are one hundred and twenty five members in our group. Have you had many conversations with one hundred and twenty five people at the same time? I haven’t. Yet every time I post something in this group, many people read it, and quite a few comment on it. People agree with me, and add things I was unaware of. People disagree with me, and add things I didn’t think of. In my experience, this type of discourse is uncommon in “the real world”, yet it is quite common on the Internet and Facebook. These are people of a multitude of ages, a multitude of backgrounds, and a multitude of points of view, which leads me to my next point.
People generally tend to socialize with friends, and generally speaking, friends tend to be of like mind. Even when they aren’t, many friends choose to not engage in a discussion about things they disagree on. What’s the golden rule at parties and family functions? Never discuss politics or religion. Well guess what? Not so on the Internet, and certainly not so in this particular group. The “real life” friends that I socialize with tend to be very close to my age, from my social background, or from my profession. My “online friends” are a varied mixture of ages, cultural backgrounds, races, and professions. In short, and to be honest, they are people I’d more than likely not have has as friends nor have in-depth discussions with in “the real world”. So, when I engage in discussions with them, I am hearing a wealth of different perspectives, and I believe that is enormously beneficial to both me and them. Stan, for example, is half my age. He is from a totally different generation than I am, and so, gives me a unique opportunity to see things from a younger generation’s point of view.
Finally, debating on Facebook isn’t a waste of time for me, because anytime an intelligent person hears an opposing view, he or she digests it. It might not immediately change their mind, it might never change their mind, but it makes them think. It drives home the fact that everyone is entitled to a point of view. Just because someone is half your age (or twice your age), lives far away from you, is from a different cultural background from you, works in an entirely different profession than you, and has views radically different from yours, it doesn’t mean you can’t listen with respect to what that person has to say. The truth is, you might not choose that person as a friend offline, but that fact alone shouldn’t disqualify him or her from being one of your “Online/Facebook Friends”. It teaches tolerance. I think we need more tolerance in this world, but hey, I’m just a cop.by