Why I ‘Friended’ You

(Note: I really wish I had finished this entry before this weekend’s Trump revelations. I don’t want anyone to think this is about that. I’ve been working on this entry for months.)

Using my only superpower: Overthinking
(Copyright © 2014 by Wil C. Fry.)

I’ve wanted to write about “why I unfriended you” for so long that I feel like I’ve already written it. I wanted to be correct and precise. I definitely did not want it to be the run-of-the-mill “Why I Unfriended You” piece. I recently hit upon the idea of going the opposite route, defining instead why I add people to my friend lists on social media sites.

That’s the real question, isn’t it? I believe that I can explore and define the reasons for the connection, and then it will be easier to understand why and when I break that connection.

• Why We’re Friends Online

1. I accepted your friend request because I thought you might be interested in what I have to say. And I thought that perhaps I might be interested in what you have to say.

2. We don’t often see each other in person, so social media is our tenuous connection.

3. While I did not expect that our views would converge at all points on all topics, I did expect some common ground when it comes to major ideals: human rights, basic morality, and always relegating violence to a last-resort solution (with civil discussion being the first).

Some of you, I’ve known my entire life, so I assumed we wouldn’t have to discuss those basic topics. Some points are so fundamental that a disagreement means we cannot be friends. For example, I would not have added you as a friend if I thought you were a white supremacist, a terrorist, or a serial rapist, or even if I thought you had a soft spot for them.

4. I like to broaden my horizons.

It makes me a better person to consider your differing viewpoint, to discover your world, to read descriptions of your life that is so different from mine. You raise cows and I wrangle human children; let’s talk. I like photography and you’re an IT expert; we can learn from each other. You’re in a college town in Massachusetts and I’m in a military city in Texas; that means each of us can enlighten the other. You’re a career woman and I’m a stay-at-home Dad; I see conversations in our future.

One of the posts that caused me to “unfriend” someone recently was the above image, accompanied by this text: “STAND UP OR GET OUT… And Put Your Hand Over Your Heart Like A Real American!” This was a direct response to the professional athletes who have silently protested police brutality by kneeling during the national anthem. I cannot be friends with someone who openly advocates for compulsory stifling of speech and forced anthems or pledges, not to mention the racist overtones of the recent controversy. The same person had recently posted other anti-First Amendment propaganda, including one about banning Muslims from the U.S., not to mention posts in opposition to women’s rights and gay rights, and outright lies about various “leftists”.

• The Opposite Of That

But what I did not expect, when I accepted your friend request, is that your posts would consistently and continuously be antagonistic, sometimes hateful, that you would purposefully take the wrong side on almost every social issue. I certainly didn’t expect you would advocate for my wife, children, or other friends to have fewer legal rights than you do. Fortunately, the plural, encompassing “you” did not do this; it only came from a few individual “yous”.

And I’ve struggled with it, just as I do in offline social settings. I don’t always react correctly, and I know this about myself — it’s why I often prefer online communication, which allows more time to consider my response. I still might act incorrectly, but at least I’ve weighed my options.

I’ve struggled to decide when to just ignore someone or when to remove him from my friend list. I’ve wrestled with myself over whether to comment in disagreement or just walk away. And this is exactly why I wrote this entry — so I could define why they’re on my list in the first place.

It keeps coming back to this, though: if our friendship no longer satisfies any of the four qualifications listed above, when why are we still friends?

If you’re not interested in what I post, and I’m afraid of what you post…? If our online connection makes our real-life connection worse, so that we won’t like each other as much the next time we see each other in person…? If our views diverge so much that you can no longer explain or justify your views to me — if we’ve become so different that we don’t want to hear what the other has to say…? If our metaphorical horizons can no longer intersect in any way, if we have nothing to add to each other’s lives…?

If I’m saddened or angered every time I see a post from you, yes, it’s possible that the problem lies with me. But if it’s only your posts doing this, then maybe it’s you. Perhaps you are the toxic person in the relationship.

Of course, all of these apply to non-Facebook relationships as well. I recognize that at some point if I’m ready to cut off a person online, that I might need to do it offline too.

But it’s difficult. Especially with a family member. It might mean someday telling him to his face that I’m no longer interested in dealing with him, hearing from him, sitting across the table from him. At all.

• Mistaken Expectations Cause Disappointment

Disappointment isn’t caused by others; it’s caused by me — expecting something better than what happened. In this case, I’ve been disappointed by people who I expected to be better, people that I thought I knew well enough to expect better.

The solution to the disappointment is to better manage my expectations. The solution to having toxic people on my friend list is to remove them. I’ve begun.

This meme popped up several times in my Facebook feed as well. While I appreciate the sentiment, this election is no longer about “political views”; it’s about basic decency, human rights, and securing stability of our nation for another few years. When one candidate actively supports discrimination of all kinds, and you support that candidate, I will lose faith in you.

• Put In Context

Much of the above deals in generalities; it was intentional. I don’t want the major point ignored because of something specific. If I say “abortion” or “Donald Trump”, then suddenly we’re going down a rabbit-hole instead of discussing what I’m doing to my friend list.

But the posts that led me here were not general; they were specific. They said I shouldn’t have the right to voice my opinion or protest government wrongdoing. They said that black people are guilty until proven innocent, that cops should have the right to gun them down if they’re afraid. They said that women are second-class citizens. They said that gay and lesbian persons should be deprived of basic legal rights. They said that every Muslim should be the victim of discrimination, just in case a few of them are terrorists. That every Mexican-American should be subject to persecution because some other people crossed the border illegally. That it’s excusable for rich businessmen to grab women’s genitalia without consent from the women. That society should ban certain types of medical research because of ancient religious beliefs. That poor people should be left to starve. That diseases are better than vaccines. That profits are more desirable than clean air or water.

These are not partisan political issues. These are societal problems that need solving. The fact that anyone wants them to go unsolved is unacceptable to me.

You and I can disagree on how to solve them. I’ll be happy to discuss possible solutions with you, to learn from your experiences and worldview. But we cannot disagree on whether they need to be solved. Not if you want to be my friend.


Edit: My friend list contained 84 names at its peak. Now it’s down to 71.

Edit, 2016.11.06: Added third image to this entry.

  1. It’s reaffirming to my decision to stay out of social media. There is no ‘gray’. You are my friend or you are not. You like or you don’t. I am outside the box because I refuse to be boxed in.

    • Wil C. Fry says:

      I was out of it for a few years, and would have stayed out too. But it turns out my neighborhood’s organizations make a lot of announcements via a private Facebook group; I got tired of learning of events after they happened (“Why didn’t you bring your kids to our Easter Egg hunt?” “I never heard about it.” “It was on Facebook.”) That was my primary reason for rejoining Facebook. And then I got sucked in. :-)

      However, I do think there IS “gray” in friendship. I’ve always had levels of friendship, ranging from “that guy I saw one time” to “bestest friend”, or something like that. And I don’t mind the “gray” friends on social media. We have mild interest in each other and our interests sometimes overlap. We don’t interact much with each other. Cool.

      What inspired this post was primarily (but not exclusively) family members, people I’ve known for 40+ years, who I always thought of us as caring, thoughtful individuals, but instead turned out to be cheerleaders for the Dark Side. :-(

  2. For me, social media is a gateway to my web site. In the past couple of years, I have added hundreds of friends, and currently have 1057. I probably care what 1% of them have to say. Some of them get so rowdy I “unfollow” them so I don’t have to hear their chatter, but they can still see me and the links to the next big thing, richardbarron.net. ;>)

    • Wil C. Fry says:

      That’s one way to go. I did “unfollow” several people, for a similar reason. Of course, your reasons for being on social media differ somewhat from mine, so our reasons for friending/unfriending would be different too, I suppose.

      In my case, the mental struggle was primarily because the people in question were close to me in “real life” (I don’t like that phrase, but people know what I mean), and the decision to cut them off on social media could have direct and meaningful effects in our offline lives. :-/

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