THE BLOG

The Ugly Underbelly of Facebook and Twitter

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

I don't recall when I joined Facebook and Twitter.

The reasons for joining were the obvious: the ability to reconnect with old friends and make new ones, the chance to explore a new social media that was being talked about everywhere, and the opportunity to peer into the thinking and trends being posted all over the Internet.

Facebook and Twitter were going to offer me a platform from which I could see and read the opinions and activities of people far and near, alike and unlike, conservative and liberal, similar and dissimilar. These social networking sites were a townhall, a public forum, and a debate hall. Much like debating in high school and college, Facebook and Twitter encompassed what I loved so much about debating - the social interaction and the lively exchange of ideas.

Now I oftentimes wonder why I stay on Facebook and Twitter.

The easy answer is that I'm bullheaded and like many of us, sometimes just can't resist rubbernecking and watching the collision - the collision of ideas.

I use Facebook and Twitter for social purposes but also to express ideas and thoughts from my website, MichaelBrownToday. And therein lies the conundrum. I have an active albeit small following that debates civilly, thoughtfully and passionately. For those followers and participants I am grateful and often learn and sometimes even change my position or perspective on issues.

But these sites also have an ugly yet insightful underbelly. There you'll find caustic remarks, shallow thoughts, ad hominem attacks, and, most frightening of all, the dreaded "de-friend" or "stop following" actions. In that underbelly you'll find tunnel vision, hatred, laziness, rudeness, and a tendency to just shut out any opposing viewpoints.

I often tell my listeners on my radio show that they should listen to all points of view, whether you agree or not. If you're passionate about an issue, then you owe it to yourself to at least hear the other side, even if you ultimately decide there is no merit to their side. Listening and considering other points of view strengthens your arguments and doesn't weaken them. If it does weaken them, then you have some more work to do.

Just as I watch a smattering of all television news and opinion shows and read both left-wing and right-wing opinion pieces, I enjoy the back-and-forth on Facebook and Twitter. What I don't like and worry is a reflection of our culture, is the willingness to quickly and without thought "de-friend" someone on Facebook or "stop following" someone on Twitter.

I know it happens because if you dig deep enough you can find scripts and other programs to show when someone de-friends you or stops following you. When you post a link to a blog entry and someone drops you very shortly thereafter, you can generally assume they didn't like your point of view. I know that all sorts of reasons exist for dropping someone from Facebook or Twitter. I've dropped people because they're abusing the system or just posting or tweeting on matters completely beyond my interests (can you comprehend why MLM schemes continue to proliferate post-Madoff?).

If you're guilty of "de-friending" or "stop following" because you disagreed with someone, consider what you might be missing - a chance to learn, grow and strengthen your point of view by understanding your opposition. The townhall aspect of these two social media sites is their strength. We should work to maintain that strength.

Besides, we'll know when you drop us!

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