Debates on Facebook: Like An American Jew Sitting Next to Two Arabs in an Old City Jerusalem Pizza Parlor

In social media, interacting though facebook, twitter and the like can be a dialogue. I see people updating most often with the literal, “what they are doing.” (I do this as well) But less often status updates express thoughts, ideas and beliefs. It’s as if for the most part no one wants to rock the boat and put something up that “friends” or “followers” might not find agreeable. And when we do post something controversial many expect that everyone will just give them a “right on,” or a “Thumbs Up,” and aren’t prepared for a disagreement.

Yesterday variations of “No one should die because they cannot afford health care, and no one should go broke because they get sick,” were being posted in status updates across the United States. It amazes me how much this upset people. Many people can read all day long about how someone’s small child pooped in the toilet for the first time, or about the current meal another is preparing, but as soon as a controversial update goes up people get inflamed. I had one friend write in her status update, “How many times do I need to get the same Health Care Post…I have my opinion and so do you…go to one of the many town halls and do it that way, watch the Presidents speeches and do it that way, but please stop sending it to me!”

Well first off, in social media, unless someone sends you a message to your inbox, an @whoeveryouare, or a direct message, they aren’t really targeting you. If you choose to take it as an attack on your beliefs then perhaps that’s the time to open up a healthy debate. I really try not to get into too many disagreements on facebook. I do debate an issue with my cousin from time to time, or more accurately, with his friends. He knows many people that only think the way he does, I want to shake up his world now and then to remind him that there are others that don’t. But I rarely do this otherwise on facebook I really wasn’t even going to respond to my friend. But then I wanted to see what would happen.

My friend’s rebuttal when I posted, “No offense, but I don’t think people are specifically sending it to you, it’s just how they feel and they are posting their feelings and thoughts,” was, “I know you and I disagree Leah which is what makes this country great, but when it is not a personal posting (in the status) but rather a chain letter style of posting, it does make one feel bombarded. Cutting and pasting for a post is not how I use the status section of FB.” I disagree with the chain letter comparison. I think yesterday’s post was such a simple statement and easily captures the essence of what many people are feeling. While some versions said if you agree with this, repost it in your status update, it neither said you will receive 7 years of bad luck if you don’t repost this, nor did it say please send this to 10 people you care about or the opposite of your wish will come true. That, to me, would be a chain letter.

Many people started debates with their friends through this posting. It naturally brings out mixed emotions and opens up a conversation. It also shows solidarity in a belief (on the behalf of the posters). If you feel strongly enough to post something controversial, then you should be prepared to debate the issue. I don’t think my friend was upset because someone copied and pasted the post, it’s that a group of people she knows oppose her opinions. Through repetition they are making their point with this statement. I think many people live in a bubble thinking that everyone they know shares the same opinions they do, especially if we only talk about poop or recipes in a status update. As soon as someone upsets that balance and forces us to come out of our chit-chat to talk about real issues it can either push our limits of understanding or cause us to bury our heads deeper into our own belief structure and not listen to the voices of others.

I definitely had a very sheltered view of the world when I first took off backpacking. Through the encounters that I had, and the spirited debates that I participated in, I learned a lot about the world, other cultures and other people. Most importantly I learned that there are always two sides to any debate and both believe they are right or they would not be debating the issue. Listening was key in all these interactions because each person I met had a completely different life story and experience than I did.

I remember walking into a crowded pizza restaurant in the old city of Jerusalem. It was probably the only pizza place for miles. You sat where there was an open seat. No table or personal space could be had in this tiny, busy, cramped restaurant. I ended up sitting next to two young burqua clad girls in their late teens. As we began talking they were excited to learn more about America. I wanted to learn more about their culture. Our conversation was only in the infant stages of getting to know each other when they asked a simple question, my name. I of course said Leah. They immediately backed off and said, “Are you Jewish?” Not being a good liar, I said, “Well yes, but I am not religious.” All true, but irrelevant, and the conversation stopped, the two young girls immediately rose and left the table.

I feel too many people are rising up from the table and leaving before the conversation even begins. Or they focus on the thing that bothers them most, in the pizza parlor incident, my religion, in my friend’s case, the fact that the post is cut and pasted. By being distracted by the trivial or inconsequential, we will not even hear what the other side has to say.

If a debate is hard to have on fb, is it impossible in 140 Characters?