How not to fight with ‘Friends’ online

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GETSY TIGLAO

GETSY TIGLAO

Years ago, a friend was truculently trying to get me to join Facebook. I said that I heard that it was like the “wild, wild West” and that it was too much for my introspective nature. “Yes, it can be,” he acknowledged. “I have lost a lot of friends since I came onboard.”

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Ah, the perils of joining Facebook, especially for people with strong political beliefs, such as my old friend, who promptly “Unfriended” me when he found out through my postings that I held views contrary to his own. There was no argument; it was a quiet drop that you only learn when you check the friend’s timeline and it now says “Add Friend.”

Some other people will engage you directly online, and how you respond will determine whether or not that person will remain as a friend. The best move is to talk with the piqued friend via the private messaging option. But even this is no assurance that you will come to an agreement especially when it comes to hot-button political issues.

The past months have brought forth a number of controversial Philippine news and events, from the long-festering pork barrel scam, to the Supreme Court declaration that the Abad-created “savings” program was unconstitutional, and most recently President Aquino’s statement that he was now open to changing the Constitution to enable himself a second term. My news feed could have been spewing smoke and fire, based on the number and intensity of stories and updates posted, shared, and commented on.

Even in the United States, this period appears to be a heated one politically what with the violent conflict in Gaza, Syria, Ukraine, and Afghanistan, and the resulting localized “fighting” among Facebook friends on these issues. This has even prompted the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) to write an article recently, titled “How to Stop Fighting on Facebook” with advise on filtering friends and how to engage those with different political and world views.

The WSJ article quoted Beth Fisher-Yoshida, director of the Negotiation and Conflict Resolution program at Columbia University in New York as saying that in social media, communication is happening without a lot of context, thus she suggested a “selective approach to engaging in arguments online.”

This means evaluating and choosing which issues you feel strongly about, and also looking and deciding on how important your relationship is, with the person you are currently arguing with.

It may be all for naught anyway, unless your friend has an open mind, confident self, or healthy ego, someone who is willing to say, “Hey, you may be right about this.” But how many people do you know who would be willing to admit that they are wrong? Usually, people just dig their heels in and absolutely refuse to consider any counter-arguments, no matter how logical or reasonable, especially if these challenge their deeply entrenched views. This is due to the psychological phenomenon known as “motivated reasoning.”

Mother Jones.com defines this theory as: “The idea that our prior beliefs, commitments, and emotions drive our responses to new information, such that when we are faced with facts that deeply challenge these commitments, we fight back against them to defend our identities.”

As an example, it cited a recent study in Pediatrics Journal that showed people who were biased against vaccination in the first place (believing them to cause autism in children, an idea, a wrong one, popularized by Playboy model Jenny McCarthy), would not change their views even when presented with overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

The study participants were shown various materials debunking claims that vaccination was detrimental to health, as well as photos of children who had diseases prevented by vaccines. A later testing showed no change in the anti-vaccine group’s thinking, and in fact, the photos of the sick children made them even less likely to consider vaccination for their children. The information campaign had backfired.

Another scientific theory to explain this type of emotion-biased decision-making is “confirmation bias” or when people favor and select data that will support their original beliefs, without any regard for contrary information. Psychologists say that people resort to this emotional thinking to avoid “cognitive dissonance,” or the mental stress or unease that comes when your core beliefs are challenged.

This can be clearly seen in the ongoing debates about Aquino’s declaration that he is now open to a term extension. In some online forums, you may see a discussion thread running this way:

A: “The President cannot run again, the Constitution expressly prohibits it.”

B: “But he’s a good and honest leader, we need him to continue his work.”

A: “Charter change will require at least P14 billion funding. We can’t afford it now.”

B: “The previous government was so corrupt. Kung walang kurap, walang mahirap (No corruption, no poor people).”

A: “This government bribed senators with taxpayer’s money to oust the Chief Justice, they illegally realigned money to their allies’ pet projects.”

B: “You must be a Marcos loyalist. How much money did you receive?”

Speaking of Marcos, a dear friend of mine related how her perceptions had changed about the dictator from her youth in the 1980s when she opposed him, and to now as a 50-something adult who recognizes that despite his failings, Marcos had a long-term vision for the country.

“We demonized him, and if you told me 30 years ago that he was a good president, I would have shouted you off. Now we have the benefit of hindsight and can compare him with our current president, and we find him [Aquino] wanting . . . I now see all the cracks in his armor,” she explained.

Ironically, as several columnists have already pointed out, the weaknesses and inefficiencies of the current government are now giving rise to a new appreciation of Marcos, the Aquino family’s old enemy.

It doesn’t help too that Filipinos are still using and enjoying the various infrastructure that were built during Marcos time, which are too many to mention. The most conspicuous of course is the Light Railway Transit Line 1, built way back in 1984.

My friend’s point in bringing up Marcos: our beliefs, especially political ones, are not set in stone. We may hold onto them fiercely for now, but time and the truth will eventually win out.

getsytiglao@yahoo.com.

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