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Why We Shouldn't Ignore Political Speech on Facebook

It started with a Facebook post from a retired teacher I know whose work I genuinely respect and whose perspectives I find thoughtful and informed.

That's it! Done!! Editing out any and all political posts as they arrive from whomever—left or right. Looking forward to some peace and quiet on my page now that we are truly done with the election and inauguration. 

The message was followed by a dozen supportive "You go!" messages. Lots of people agreed. It was time to stop with all the outrage and fake news and return to pictures of grandkids, vacations, and sunsets. The time for political dissent was over.

The message terrified me. And I said so, drawing another wave of scolding.  Didn't I understand that it was time to go back to normal?

I never cease to be amazed by teachers' propensity for avoiding conflict. We are, however, living in a world where stalwart national institutions—the National Park Service, the EPA, NASA—have had their public channels shut down, their research findings threatened. Donald Trump's chief advisor, Steve Bannon warned the media to "keep its mouth shut."  We are evidently going to wall off our southern neighbors. And that's just one day's worth of angst.

These don't feel like a reason to believe All Will Be Well, or anything close to normal, for a good long time. Before even more hate, suppression and loss of human rights occurs, maybe we all need to stand up for the principles of democracy. Maybe teachers need to pay close attention, as role models for an educated citizenry.

Facebook is a pretty low-risk place to explore and discuss core beliefs. If we can use social media to invite people to a party, ask for donations, or share news about our cancer treatments, we can learn to engage in dialogue, including evidence-fed disagreement over the things that matter most to us. We can talk to our friends and our "friends" about real, critical issues.Thumbnail image for flanagan_politics.png

We can use Facebook and other social media platforms to reconnect with people who feel disenfranchised. We can collaborate. We can organize and resist. We can practice civic engagement in our slippers.

That's not to say that taking a break from social media is a bad thing. It's healthy, occasionally, to shut off the noise, knowing it will still be there tomorrow or next week. It's OK to avoid responding to an overt challenge. It's just fine to let an argument go. Turning away from human misery and injustice, however? Not fine.

It's also perfectly reasonable to stick to your opinions. People are fond of saying that nothing they read on the Internet will change their minds. But I think that statement comes from a deep-seated desire to appear confident, secure in our beliefs, invulnerable and above the fray.

F. Scott Fitzgerald said "The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function." Maybe a person who can't, in fact, consider two opposing ideas, and is forced to resort to name-calling and vitriol, isn't worth having as a friend.

Have I practiced that skill—re-considering my views because of something I read on Facebook or a linked article on Twitter? Absolutely. Sometimes, a shared item will fill in a blank: a key piece of credible evidence, a new resource, a different way of thinking about a social issue from an unrecognized stakeholder.

At the very least, engaging in substantive conversation about current events on a social media platform is good practice in dialogue, honing our values, and determining which sources are accurate. Our students live in this world. Turning away from the red-hot center of American political argument right now feels like abandoning democracy.

As Jae Alexis Lee says: Responsible citizenship does not mean 'wait and see.'

My friend Sharon Gallagher-Fishbaugh, the Utah Teacher of the Year 2009, who is kind and well-spoken, sent this to her Facebook friends:

My Dear FB Family and Friends,

I am so grateful for each of you and I appreciate the lessons you have taught me. I know many of you are sick of political posts. I understand and respect your feelings.

Having said that, I am compelled to call out what I see as dishonesty, pathology, and the autocratic nature of this president. If this bothers you, please feel free to block me or even "see less of me" for a while. I cannot condone lying, rationalization of bad behavior, limitations on our free press, hypocrisy, and blatant misogyny especially on the part of the President of the United States.

So I will continue to post and express my viewpoints, as I know each of you will as well. Just don't ask me to stop holding our elected leader accountable. Love to you all!

Love to you, too, Sharon—and thanks for being the ultimate teacher.

Image credit: Pablo 

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