If I didn’t know any better, I would think that most of my Facebook friends are running for Office. I can see their political affiliations, their debates with opposing parties, their stance on a multitude of social issues, not to mention their foreign affairs policies, posted right on their wall. We treat our profile page as the headquarters for a personal campaign that we’ve launched against all the world’s issues. In every wall post, we open up the polls to allow for a vote of confidence in the form of “likes”. And above each of these posts is our full name, as if to say, “Zack Gelmon approves this message.”
I used to go on Facebook to remember people that I met while travelling, connect with old friends, and creep on bikini pics. My old Facebook newsfeed used to notify me that a couple broke up, that someone got a genitalia drawn on their face when they passed out on the weekend, or a friend of mine would get trolled and openly confess to having a “mangina”. Although these things still occur (and are still hilarious), they’re happening less frequently. Now, my Facebook newsfeed has started to look more like… well, a legitimate newsfeed. It’s regularly been my first source of a news story, before I investigate a matter more deeply.
Maybe the content change in my Facebook feed is simply due to the natural progression of aging. As we get older, we are suckered into talking about politics enough times that we force ourselves to find it fascinating. Maybe it’s because we need to stay relevant with the buzz in order to sustain a conversation in our mature and adult relationships. Maybe we want to impress our parents by disagreeing with them for the first time with our self-formulated opinions. Or maybe we want to demonstrate our passion for justice by efficiently reprimanding those who disagree with our vision of world betterment.
However, I think that Facebook itself is also responsible for the shift towards this highly political dialogue on my newsfeed. In the past, one could actively avoid watching the news or reading the papers, but no one could ever withstand the allures of the ever-popular social media craze. Now, whether we want to or not, we are consciously or subconsciously formulating political opinions every single time we log in, just before we grudgingly click through our ex-girlfriend’s most recent photos. This is because Facebook is now bugged with trending political stories. Whether I’m scanning through or reading my newsfeed thoroughly, I will undoubtedly be exposed to these stories. Just to test this theory, I logged into Facebook to see that the first post on my feed was about civil rights, and the tensions between African Americans and the police in the United States. With this relatively new overload of news stories in what we consider to be our private spaces, or what I consider our “online identities”, more people than ever before are learning to join into these political debates. While everyone and their dog seems to be completely vested in political issues, it comes as no surprise that the last Canadian election had its highest voter turnout in two decades.
As mentioned, Facebook is linking our personal identities to political causes. A perfect example of this was the option to change our profile pictures to the French flag following the terrorist attacks in Paris. One could argue that this was to show support for the victims, or if we want to go all Poli Sci on your ass, one could argue that this was to show support for democracy, or to protest against acts of war. Although this was a subtle and good-natured act, it clearly indicates that Facebook is facilitating a stronger political dialogue and pressing people to become politically charged. I mean, if you did click “yes” to change your profile picture to the colours of the French flag, you probably had an ample reason prepared as to why you did it.
Now with all of that being said, I would like to shift gears and stir up a little controversy. Here, I will raise some questions that I hope you (the reader) will respond to. I promise you, if you respond in a respectful manner, I will be readily willing to change my mind. A phrase that you’ve never heard said when either party enters a political debate. I believe that when it comes to our political opinions, we all have a natural tendency to become dogmatic and fanatical in our viewpoints. Winston Churchill once defined a fanatic as “One who can’t change his mind and won’t change the subject.”
So here it is… the controversial question that I promised you: What are we achieving through our political debates and advocacy? It seems as though our opinions are so deeply rooted within us that we’re only capable of supporting congruent ideas, while we’re quick to scold our opposition. Both sides of any debate will enter with an overtly stubborn mentality. Maybe this is because of the association we make between political opinions and our personal identities. It’s almost as if conceding to another’s viewpoint is the equivalent of betrayal to one’s innermost self.
So, if we can’t change the minds of other people when we engage in political debates or write posts about social issues, whom are we trying to convince? We’re only capable of rallying like-minded individuals to our cause. It seems to me that our political dialogue is composed of two types of people – those who agree, and those who never will. The purpose of this article is not to demean the political actions of my friends, because I’m proud of those who use their voices to speak out about important issues. However, talking politics, in my mind, is a predictable and frustrating feud between two unyielding and fanatical opinions. So, ironically, I’m hoping that this article stirs a debate, but to stray from the classic debate template – I’m willing to change my mind.
- Zack Gelmon