Facebook launched in February 2004, 9 months before the Bush/Kerry Presidential elections. Unless you were attending Harvard or one of the other Ivy League schools at that time, you probably had never heard of Facebook. Fast-forward 4 years and Facebook boasts 110 millions users worldwide and has become a fascinating new element to POTUS ’08. Status updates become running (sometimes hilarious) commentary on the debates. Wall posts become mini-debates in themselves. Shared articles and web links broaden our perceptions of the issues on the table.
One of the more interesting things for me has been the exchanges between “friends”. On the good/fun side, I’ve had friends from completely different periods of my life kicking around opinions and issues (their only connection being my Facebook wall or a blog note). Some of these exchanges are substantive, some merely joking around. One of the things I’ve noticed as well is the occasional lack of civility fueled by a passionate opinion. Sometimes, even though an opinion might be directed at a candidate, comments thrown around in the heat of typing would never be uttered aloud in public. Slurs like terrorist, baby-killer, warmonger, all come spewing forth. Assumptions about the ignorance or blind loyalty of those holding opposing loyalties are frequent. LOTS of false information is exchanged, positions are bludgeoned and faith is questioned.
Andrew Sullivan, an Atlantic Senior Editor wrote an interesting article in the current issue about his dive into the blogging pool (Why I Blog, Nov. 2008 issue). He says that some of the best advice he received was from Matt Drudge who said the key to understanding a blog is to realize it is a broadcast, not a publication…a blog at its best is a conversation rather than a production.” I think most folk on Facebook recognize it to be something similar but different. Facebook is a facilitator of conversations and at an even deeper level, a conveyor of thoughts, moods, etc.; ambient awareness is what this is called by social scientists. (check out Clive Thompson’s article in the NYTimes Magazine). When logged in, we are present with our friend lists, not unlike being in the room with them. We become aware of their presence. (At this moment, I have friends from Tennessee, Louisiana, Virginia, Texas, Florida, Alabama, and Bosnia online…in my room so to speak).
Next time you sit down in a room with someone, call them a “baby-killer” (if they happen to be Democrat) or remind them of how “they enjoy killing Iraqi civilians” (if they happen to be a Republican). …and let the fun begin!!! The thing with Facebook is that it is a conversation…except the words linger…in print…for a long time…on hundreds of people’s computer screens…all over the world! I guess I’m not really saying this is necessarily a bad thing. To the extent it gets up past the BS of much normal, polite conversation and we talk about issues at a deeper more substantive level, its great. To the point we are verbally abusing friends, acquaintances, and absolute strangers…probably not so good.
Ultimately, we have a week or so before we know who will be replacing W. If we don’t beat each other do death online, we might agree that at the very least, a new president will be a good thing… (uh oh…here comes the W retaliation comments…)