Please Unfriend Me Now!

It’s 2am in the morning Tuesday. I’ve been lying in bed for about an hour and a half just thinking. It’s usually at times like this I flip and flop over and over until I either fall asleep or out of bed (then asleep. I am not a complicated creature). But this night was a little different. There was a series of thoughts and concepts mulling around that I simply couldn’t shake.

Of course, I had to get up and figure out exactly what it was that was bothering me this time. I flipped through a couple of random Facebook pages until I came across that old, familiar meme that, while always being a little different, typically carries the same punchline: “If you disagree with me, unfriend me now.”

It was about that time all the thoughts came together and I understood what had crawled under my skin and was driving me a little batty. Between all the marvelous spreading of news, misinformation and badly cited sources, I had reached a so-called critical mass of exhaustion of that old “unfriend me now” thing.

unfriend post            While I’m certainly not going to beat the drum of “Fake News is BAD” that you can find just about anywhere, what I really need to discuss is why I find this “unfriend me now” sentiment is not only counter-intuitive, but ultimately destructive of a globalization overall.

Note to self: I need to find a nicer short-hand for the “unfriend me now” statement. I feel like its unnecessarily padding out my word count. Going forward, I shall call it the “Fred”, nicely wrapped in quotation marks. That works.

As a primer, I feel the need to convey a couple of personal beliefs I hold to make the transition from speculation to discussion a little more smooth. Primarily: I am pro-globalization and largely believe that our international societies are dependent on globalization to function at their current capacity; I do frequently use social media myself and, regrettably, it too is a source of news for me (which I am endeavoring to change, but it’ll be a slow process); and finally I am pro-discussion, even the unpleasant ones.

In fact, let’s zone in on that last point first. Discussions, debates and arguments are an important way for us to grow, not only as individuals, but as a society. And this is doubly true for the really unpleasant topics, and I’m sure you can come up with a short list in your head without too much prompting from myself. But, fact of the matter is that these unpleasant discussions are the ones we’re most likely to not have (shockingly enough).

When we don’t have these conversations, we don’t challenge our beliefs. And a belief that has not been thoroughly challenged should be re-evaluated. It harkens me back to a discussion I had with a classmate last year: the class had been discussing GMOs and the like, an inevitably the conversation turned towards how GMOs aren’t actually bad in the slightest(if you like lemons, you like GMOs. Because lemons are not naturally occurring fruit. Boom; mic drop). Invariably, I got into an argument with a classmate of mine who believed that we shouldn’t be using medicine to treat hereditary diseases.the_evil_lemon_by_i_love_transformers-d32vn17

I’ll be honest, I still don’t really understand the mindset, but I discussed it anyway. I was curious as to what were the ends that not treating these diseases was ethically acceptable to this person, and where the limits on that were. About eight minutes later, she demanded I walk away from her because she was very frustrated that I was questioning her beliefs. She never spoke to me again after that (and I’d like to think I wasn’t being obnoxious during the discussion).

I found out later from a mutual friend that no one had questioned her beliefs about that topic before, which explained why she was so sensitive to my in-depth questioning. I cannot speak for my ex-friend, but I know that I learned a little from the discussion and grew a bit.

But, where it can be difficult to just shut a person up IRL, it’s much easier over an online forum. And sometimes, that’s a good thing: if someone is spewing toxic sludge over a gaming session, hitting mute can be just the medicine the doctor ordered. However, more often than not, we use the mute button as a lazy solution to thinking critically or challenging ourselves to think differently.

I spent about an hour reading a couple of scientific pages and papers about the “Echo Chamber” phenomenon that’s been occurring on social media networks, and while that’s certainly not enough time to glean any hard facts from, there is a trend that I picked up on that is worth noting.

Most importantly, people who segregate themselves into groups based on ideologies (religious, social, illuminati) are much less likely to have varied opinions or beliefs on matters than even groups based on geographic locations. And when these segregated groups are all fed the same information (correct or otherwise), they tend to become very charged and rigid in their beliefs. This is where we hit that wonderful little psychological problem of “Confirmation Bias”, and to a smaller but no less note-worthy degree “In-group Bias”.

Paraphrased, Confirmation and In-group biases are the mental shortcuts of processing information quickly to reach conclusions based on news that already confirms our beliefs, or from sources that are more likely to share our values. In hindsight, basically exactly what the names imply. Probably could have saved ourselves some time with an external link…

Now, let’s bring this back to our friend “Fred”. When we insist that people who don’t readily share our views “Fred” us, we eliminate the chance to have a meaningful discussion about what our beliefs and values are. In small scale, this could be trivial things like why hamburgers are better as square shapes or why white sports cars don’t look as cool as red sports cars (spoiler alert: white sports cars are way better). But in larger scales, this could mean the difference in understanding foreign cultures or ideologies. These different ways of thinking could hold pieces of the answers to many of the issues and problems that plague our society on the whole.

And I know it’s exhausting and hard to have these kinds of arguments all the time. Gods don’t I know it; I have friends on my facebook account (who are also mutual friends) who frequently get into scraps with one another about their fundamental beliefs of homosexuality and gender identity. That’s a huge thing to discuss, and while there are no signs of those two agreeing any time soon, it’s vital that the conversation is at least happening.

When we stop learning from one another, we recede into our little echo chambers and allow fear and hate to colour our opinions of each other. To this day, I never cut someone out of my life because they disagree with my views and opinions (if they steal fries from my tray though, there will be blood). When I see a “Fred” post, I argue against it. Don’t close the doors to discussion. Keep them open.

We all know how stagnant the air gets in these echo chambers.

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