While browsing through my Facebook newsfeed this weekend, I came across a post that made my blood boil. We’ve all experienced this: a Facebook friend posts an inflammatory message that demands a response. Heart pounding, we pounce at the keyboard and hammer out an appropriately scathing—or archly informative—reply. Perhaps we hunt for an online article to prove our point, or perhaps we merely offer a withering scold. And then we hit return.
Or, we don’t.
I stopped hitting that key a few years back after realizing the blood pressure elevations prompted by arguments with strangers weren’t worth it. But I also doused my collection of firebrands because I’d started promoting my fiction through social media, and to be frank, I feared offending potential fans. While I occasionally post a link or “like” a page some might find controversial, I do so far less often than I did when my Facebook friends included only people with whom I’d worked or attended school.
Sometimes I wonder whether this is prudence or cowardice. You no longer have the courage of your convictions, I scold myself. Why aren’t you shaking your virtual fist for justice? Or even better—why aren’t you posting the courteously worded arguments expressing your well-reasoned, sensible views that you used to post?
Well, one reason is those darn blood pressure spikes. Another is that arguing with strangers, especially when one tries to back up the arguments with facts, takes time. I have better things to do than stand on my virtual soap box and yell with the rest of the crazies yelling from their virtual soap boxes. I have a daughter, a husband, and two cats who require care and attention. I have a fiction writing career. And oh yes, I have a living to make.
Then I see a post like the one I saw this weekend. Spoiler: I did not hit return. I did type three different responses into the thread, all of which expressed my deep disappointment in my Facebook friend, for what I felt was a despicable breach of trust. In this case, my friend posted not a political statement, but a private message received from someone else. My friend was angered by the message and sought sympathy from members of a private group to which we both belong.
The thread had about fifty comments when I saw it. I didn’t read through them to see if anyone had written the sort of scathing remarks I wanted to post. I had other things to do (a child to shepherd to lessons, errands to run), so I closed my browser and moved on with my day. But the post haunted me and started me thinking. If we didn’t have the Internet, if it wasn’t so easy to copy and paste text from one window to another, would this person share private letters without compunction? The only fitting pre-Internet analogy would be if a high school student took a private note written by another student and posted it on a bulletin board in the room where the chess club meets.
I don’t know the details of the dispute behind the PM exchange. Whether my friend’s anger is righteous or misplaced is beside the point. What made my blood boil was that this person exposed another’s private words for public ridicule. I typed three different messages along the theme of “shame on you” into the thread, but I did not hit return after any of them. I went on with my day, and I wondered, “what happened to the courage of your convictions?”
I’ll let you know when I find it.
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