As someone who was alive, and an active social media user, during the 2016 Presidential campaign I was overwhelmed by the amount of negativity that was being circulated. Facebook posts and tweets filled with bigotry, hatred, and close-mindedness were the first things I would see in the morning, and the last thing I saw at night. It was especially difficult to see the posts that I strongly disagreed with, or found sexist. These comments or posts about politics that were so opposite and threatening to my own were coming from people I loved, and called family, as well as people I needed to respect in work settings. Videos like those featuring Tomi Lahren left me feeling pessimistic and frustrated, and to link that feeling to someone I otherwise really loved? Confusing.
Finding myself fuming yet again at a post I found appalling on Facebook, I decided to unfollow the author of the comment. “Unfollowing” allows you to remain “friends” on Facebook, but allows you to block notifications or future posts from them on your feed, without notifying the person you have unfollowed. As dumb as it sounds, I felt a large weight lifted off my shoulders, and I proceeded to unfollow every person that had continued to post media I thought negative or comments that I personally felt were wrong and upsetting. It was better that I mute their comments, rather than have my views of them be tainted, right?
As months carried on in the Presidential Election, I realized that the only media I was seeing from the election was CNN clips, or other posts from the left wing. I had completely forgotten about my unfollow spree months earlier, and realized that I had left right-wing enthusiasts completely out of the dialogue, a dialogue which was so clearly impacting my judgment on the current political climate. While this was admittedly a peaceful time agreeing with everything popping up on my feed, by silencing other people’s perspectives on Facebook, I was being as closed-minded as I the people I silenced seemed to be. Even though these right wing opinions were sometimes very frustrating to me, it was crucial I leave them in the conversation in order to see the argument from their side, and get a broader perspective.
Facebook’s unfollow feature is dangerous when used in situations involving politics, as it allows us to silence opposition, and make our circle smaller and more alike in thought. While it is comfortable to agree with every political opinion on our feeds, it is not helping us become well rounded, open minded people. Instead we should seek to understand their views, and appreciate them for what they are. While seeing Tomi Lahren’s face still gives me ulcers, maybe I can try to look past her shouting and listen to what the right wing is saying. After all, they just might end up just strengthening my left wing views.