Appropriate Boundaries and Social Media in an Election Year
A few months ago, a parent of one of my son’s classmates sent a political message to all the parents in the class. He started off by apologizing for posting it, but said the situation was just so important he wanted to make sure we were aware of it. This was clearly not an appropriate use of the parents’ email list. The specific content of his message also offended me–redistricting had put two highly qualified candidates into the same district and he wanted to persuade us to vote in the primary for the candidate who was historically our neighborhood’s rep because she is “one of us” (his exact words). By “one of us” did he mean “white”? I was furious because it would be inappropriate to reply to his message. I thought about sending him a private note but restrained myself.
His message was a boundary violation. Boundaries are healthy. It’s rude to discuss politics at work, because it’s too divisive. Grown ups know not to do that. Stay away from politics, religion, and the great pumpkin and we’ll all get along much better. Which brings me to my discomfort with Facebook this week. The Republican National Convention is happening this week, and some work colleagues are posting about it on both Facebook and Twitter. In my ideal fantasy world, my reaction to this would be:
Oh, interesting! I don’t know Colleague X well, and his views are certainly different from mine. I don’t agree with him on most things, but he had an interesting point about issue Y. I will have to think about that some more.
That would be a nice world, wouldn’t it? I wish we lived in it. Because you know what I’m really thinking:
Oh, I had no idea Colleague X is a moron! Who knew? I wish I still didn’t know. I am going to try to forget that I read any of that, but it’s going to be hard.
I know Colleague X would not say those things on a work mailing list, or send them to a mailing list of parents in his kid’s class. He would never do such a thing. But somehow Facebook makes it seem OK, even though those same colleagues and fellow parents are there. I sometimes post political stuff on Facebook too. I don’t do it a lot, but sometimes something seems important enough. Like I guess our local redistricted election felt important enough to the parent who posted about it? Eek.
I’m torn. Part of me wants to rejoice in this new openness. Could we be moving towards a revitalized public sphere, where serious issues can be thoughtfully explored? Can we understand one another better because we have seriously listened? But most of me thinks those hopes are naive. No one is listening to anyone in politics these days, and breaking down the boundaries of discussing politics in polite company is not helping one bit. Psychologists argue that certain kinds of appropriate boundaries are a key component of mental health and harmonious relations, and I believe they’re right. And social media are mucking about with those boundaries in an unhealthy way.