It’s getting SO incredibly hard to say anything remotely serious on facebook and twitter without running the risk of offending some group or the other. Whether you intend to be a troll or not, sometimes you are reduced to one. First, anything and everything you write has the potential to piss someone off. I used to think food was a problem-free area, but I recently posted the link to a feature I wrote on Goan bread, and some details (I still don’t know which details, specifically, because I haven’t been told) in it pissed off a person of Goan origin. And here’s the other annoying thing – when you respond to a comment, question a counter-opinion or try and understand the other side through debate, or even so much as invite a discussion on facebook, your angry commenter is likely to suddenly not feel as enthusiastic in educating you or explaining anything as he or she did when first pointing out the error, or presenting the opinion. This is especially hard if you’re the sort that is actually open to discussion, or being a writer, don’t mind being corrected, and want feedback, even if it is hard to digest.
Second, assumption is a horrible disease. It’s hard enough relying on quickly banged-out short messages to say what you want to say, because it doesn’t allow for nuance, the space to set context or provide a background, without having to worry about what someone will assume. But never underestimate the power of that one angry person just waiting to pounce simply because he or she assumed something, based on what they saw in your post. Because that’s just the beginning. They will then proceed to add a generous pinch of some fixed and immovable notions that they hold to be the only truth, fuel it with a good healthy dose of their unresolved complexes that rise to the fore, and type out a hurried response, ostensibly refuting the point you might have made.
If you’re anything like me, you will stop and look at the statement a couple of times and try and figure out what the person is on about. As it sometimes happens, it may not even be someone on your facebook friend’s list, but a friend of someone who is tagged. Essentially a stranger. Someone who has taken the trouble to refute a point made by a person they don’t know. Which is not so troublesome, by itself. If it were just someone making a point, it would actually be welcome. But the compulsion to invest the time and effort in being so very pissed off at a strangers post, to rush off and express themselves and sound contrary to the original post is so high, that it actually makes the angry commenter sound incredibly foolish. So urgent is the need to take a contrarian stand and shoot a comment that some times commenters don’t even realise that the original poster might actually be on the same side. Just because he or she is using language that was not easy to understand, or has made a nuanced point that was beyond grasp, doesn’t make him or her the bad guy.
Third, politeness is dead. I’m not saying people always resort to profanity, but basic civility is definitely a thing of the past. It takes absolutely nothing for commenters to angrily say “you should not…” or “you ought to…” Challenge whatever I might say, question it, but say what you must with a little respect, and you will be heard. Don’t come out sounding like the asshole who is busy telling everyone on facebook what they should and shouldn’t be doing.
Fourth, armchair activism and tokenism when it comes to standing for a cause you supposedly believe in, is at its height on facebook. Every day I see people vocalising things they’re apparently deeply passionate about, but question them, engage with them beyond the basics, scratch the surface and they will either quickly exit the discussion politely, or pick a fight just to drown you out with words.
Being online still routinely gets to me. I’ve stopped using twitter because I just cannot keep up with so many platforms. Also, I really don’t know what exposing myself to so much information does for me, so I tried staying off and pretty soon I realised I’m not missing much. I occasionally take facebook breaks when things get overwhelming, like when work deadlines take over, or there’s a controversy that’s caught everyone’s fancy and shrill opinion pop up everywhere, or when I’m just tired of being wired all the time. But I cannot get off it for good. A lot of my work comes from facebook, and I have made peace with the fact that to be off facebook is not practical for me right now.
So I plod along even though I still don’t fully understand how it works, or what different kind of adrenaline a majority of people using it are running on. Why are tempers always flaring, why is patience wearing so thin, why is everyone dying to find a category or niche to be an expert in, why do we so desperately seek labels, why are we compelled to “correct” the views of strangers we encounter, why are we just so touchy and so quick to respond to things without fully understanding them?
On days when I am especially aggravated, I wonder if I should find a workaround and go under like I have before. Create a hidden id just to use for the purpose of being on facebook, minus the friends and the status messages and pictures and interaction that eventually follows. But it is easier to just stay and stop posting or engaging, I tell myself. And so I slip back into reducing my online presence to a string of Aunty Acid memes, cat and dog videos and mindless banter with a select few with whom I can say and do as I please. Take nothing seriously, offer nothing serious, take no stands, do not engage – my mottos.
Stepping outside the boundaries of that means having to waste energy explaining myself, because inevitably there is going to be some idiot waiting to take umbrage at something I have said because it offends the incredibly superficial understanding of whatever activism flavour of month they’re tasting at that point.
I’ve had my fair share of experience spending more time than is needed, indulging in arguments and debates that eventually lead nowhere. So I’ve stopped a) reading the news on social media b) sharing any links related to the news, current affairs or issues that are likely to rock the boat c) engaging in debate on anyone else’s timelines. This is also because I’m fast losing patience in keeping up with the endless talk on facebook. It makes me feel restless, helpless, wondering how long are we going to keep sitting in our perfect bubbles, banging away on facebook, our version of our individual our lofty ideas of all the what ifs and what shoulds and what can bes. I haven’t found a solution to doing it without alienating myself from the issues I claim to be so deeply passionate about. I always wonder about the point at which pontificating on facebook will compel us to action. And I haven’t found an answer to that either. I realised that not following through with my words with some kind of action just smack of incredible arrogance and privilege and I haven’t found a way to make my peace with that. So I slip back back into reducing my online presence to a string of Aunty Acid memes, cat and dog videos and mindless banter with a select few with whom I can say and do as I please. Take nothing seriously, offer nothing serious, take no stands, do not engage – my mottos.
Lather, rinse, repeat.