My case is particular: I’m passionate about US politics, but I live in Peru about half the year. Mailing anything to the USA entails a 15-min drive in hellish Lima traffic and a fee of at least a few dollars (not cents). Making phone calls to US offices generally requires entering 7 extra digits and then paying fees of about a few dollars per call (hold times are brutal). Emailing is always available, but it mostly yields disheartening spam and automated responses. A ticket into the States on short notice is about $800 at best. I donate money whenever possible, but being financially stable is a far cry from being loaded.
All this makes Facebook an important and easily accessible bridge back into the States. Of course it’s “just Facebook,” but those updates about my friends’ families, hometowns, and—yes—politics are meaningful to me, however impersonal they are. Also meaningful is having a space to discuss politics openly and in English.
Being abroad isn’t the only way to be isolated though: Living “blue” in a red state like Kentucky, for example, can feel like drowning. Living blue in a red family is arguably worse. Facebook can be a tool to start escaping that kind of isolation too.
As much as I find value in many (if not all) political Facebook engagements, though, four complaints about political Facebook posts in general seem to keep resurfacing.
(1) Facebook isn’t the place for politics.
First, Facebook is the place for pretty much anything you want to put on Facebook. Second, if doing it in person isn’t possible, I’d say social media is arguably THE place for connecting over politics: In terms of connecting people, especially people across distances, like, say, millions of women literally around the world, there’s nothing better. Yes, corrupt Facebook “news” is a huge problem that needs to be addressed; but that problem is much more indicative of a broader failure to educate people about resource quality and research techniques than a failure solely of social media.
(2) Political posts annoy me. I don’t want to see politics on MY Facebook.
Your annoyance is understandable: If you need a break from politics and Facebook is where you want that break, adjust your Facebook settings. Block me. Unfriend me. Take 10 minutes to tailor your newsfeed. But understand that your annoyance is nothing compared to people’s horror and despair regarding the current turn of events. Right now, just for me personally, these issues are consuming; I’m struggling to post pictures of sandwiches while more and more openly racist, sexist, homophobic cowards parade into positions of power. That said, vocal annoyance in Facebook statuses complaining about too many political posts is to me, at most, an indication that you lack appreciation for the gravity of the situation and are too lazy to update your own settings. I get that too much politics can become overwhelming. But if you find all politics nothing but boring or irritating, you’re profoundly privileged, profoundly unaware of the inequalities leveled against you, or both.
(3) It accomplishes nothing. You’re wasting your time. You’ll never change somebody’s opinion via Facebook.
Bull shit. People approach social media differently. Posts are also diverse in nature. If your friend group is homogenous and all you post are memes and keyboard warrior rants, of course you won’t be changing any opinions. If your friend group is diverse and curious, and if you post thoughtful articles and fact-checked data, you’d be surprised. And frankly, even if a person likes a mix of the above, fine. If that annoys you, see (2). If you can’t see any purpose to that, see (4).
In terms of scale of “changing opinion,” I’m skeptical that anyone in the latter category thinks that posting on Facebook alone is sufficient to generate massive change; if they do, of course they’re mistaken. But regardless, it’s unfair to conclude that because Facebook posts don’t instantly and independently generate massive change, all political exchanges on social media are worthless. Even the most disheartening of exchanges, like those between a sincere and educated person and a person feverishly offensive in expressing their disregard for humanity, can be meaningful in that the first person took the time to stand up to the bully. In those cases, it’s less about beating the bully at their own game and more about making voices of tolerance visible to the silent bystanders.
(4) Facebook is just an echo chamber. Nobody who sees your posts disagrees with you.
Depending on how brave you are with your friends group, this varies immensely: see (3). And even then, even if you DO have an echo chamber, I can maybe sympathize with that. After a day of listening to white men man-splain why the feminist movement is just a bunch of hysterical “ladies” and sore losers, sometimes all I want is to spend a half hour in a re-energizing (if self-contained) vortex of support and hope. Of course it’s a problem when people don’t realize (or forget) that their Facebook is an echo chamber, so it is important to vocalize this risk. But the fact that the risk exists is insufficient to write off Facebook entirely as a means for valid politics-related interaction.
I’m not exactly ready to grab a banner flag of Mark Zuckerberg’s face and start a pro-Facebook parade. To mistake Facebook commenting for something equivalent to attending a real town hall meeting or actually running for an office would be foolish. To make Facebook your main resource for news and information would be equally foolish. But treated as a platform for casual and swift article and opinion swapping, Facebook can be a valuable source of encouragement, connection, and even (if you choose) challenges to your own ways of thinking.
Admittedly this little blog post has no time for all the intricacies of online social media identity psychology. But in terms of political Facebook posts, if I see something good, I’m going to keep clicking “share.”