Dear Miriam | Blocking and Tackling (Problematic Speech)

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Dear Miriam,

Is it better to ignore/block relatives on social media to avoid their offensive posts, or is it worth trying to engage with them? I get stuck between the idea that I should cut off racist, homophobic, xenophobic relatives and the idea that I might be the only shred of sanity on their Facebook feed, so maybe I need to confront the conspiracy theories with the tiny hope it might make a difference.

Signed,


Social Media Sanity

Dear Sanity,

Facebook is great for keeping in touch with friends, asking (and giving!) advice, connecting with interest groups and (previously) inviting people to events.

In the midst of its usefulness, we know the platform suffers from permitting misinformation, trolls and worse. I would encourage you to use Facebook for the things it is good for and to ignore, block or hide people, posts and threads that are objectionable. Even if these things are, objectively, hateful and horrid, you will not fix the problem by getting involved.

In light of the serious imperfections with the platform itself, combined with the difficulty of not being able to have meaningful conversations in person, it’s understandable that you feel stuck. Author Ijeoma Oluo posted an amazing thread on Twitter on June 2 about how to address this very question. One piece of it says, “When you ask any Black activist who works in our systems every day trying to save Black lives what they would like to see white America do, the answer is not ‘argue with your racist uncle on facebook.'”

I have a couple of exceptions to my rule of not engaging with troll-like behavior, though. First, if a post has an easy to share counter-post (for example, from Snopes or similar) disproving a conspiracy theory, then I’ll often share that link. Second, if someone is personally attacking an individual involved in a comment thread on my feed, I will either intervene or shut down and delete comments.

My rationale is that while I don’t expect to change people’s minds, I also don’t have to tolerate hateful language invading my “space.”

Do not feel guilty unfriending someone who shares offensive posts. Do not feel responsible for fixing racism, homophobia or xenophobia through Facebook comments because, sadly, you will not succeed. Share things to your own feed that represent your values and beliefs and hope that your posts provide a counter balance in some metaphysical way. Take the energy and rage that you might try to put into arguing with these relatives and find other outlets for promoting equity and justice. Scroll past (or block) anything intolerable and focus on the aspects of social media that you can control.

Be well,

Miriam

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