I have been reflecting recently on the difficulty of interacting with any decency on Facebook. I have long since withdrawn from political discussion since any slight disagreement can degenerate in the blink of an eye into a nuclear standoff and the mildest of phrases such as ‘I’m not sure I understand your position here,’ can somehow translate as ‘you are an utter arse and have no right to exist’. But I thought I’d be safe with closed groups; particularly groups which are there for mutual support.
I can’t say too much without giving away confidential stuff, but yesterday we had a situation. This situation involved potential harm to a person close to me and I wanted some thoughts – not necessarily advice, but support, consideration, sympathy, comments from anyone in a similar position: the phrase I used was ‘positive thoughts.’ No sooner was my post up than someone commented: not someone I knew in real life, nor someone I’d interacted with before, but still a member of a support group.
What was I thinking? This is Facebook, for god’s sake – you might as well stick your head above the trench in World War One and ask for the enemy’s opinions on dialectical materialism. What I got was a blast of hot air from someone who in no uncertain terms told me I had no right to do what I was doing and should do x, y and z immediately. Clearly to some people the phrase ‘send me positive thoughts’ translates as ‘please give me your strong opinions.’ It hurt: I deleted the post. Maybe I shouldn’t have done; but I felt wounded by the encounter and unwilling to risk more criticism.
Isn’t it a bit of an over-reaction to feel that way about a few words from someone I don’t even know? But I don’t think I’m the only one – lately people are opening up less and less on Facebook. There’s far less personal stuff (even good news can attract some nasty comments) and far more general information. It’s a shame, but I understand it. When even a support group turns out to harbour nastiness, where do you go for support?
All of this feeds into the trans debate. Obviously there is abuse and that shouldn’t happen; but equally, the mildest of questions can trigger an incredibly aggressive response. I recently had a debate with a F to M trans person who got very angry with me for asking questions and not simply accepting their view of things. They were rude and aggressive and when I’d had enough and signed out, saying I’d tried to debate respectfully, they said I’d failed. Well at least I tried, I thought.
Sometimes Facebook feels like a highly dysfunctional household where you have to keep your thoughts to yourself because anything you say can and will be misconstrued.
And yet every time I think of leaving there’s something that pulls me back.