Identity, Israel, Uncategorized

Public Caning While Standing in a Bucket of Pig's Blood: The Facebook Dialogue Dilemma

I’ve been thinking today about the ways in which facebook and other online discourse can be constructive or destructive. I try to engage people with diverse opinions in thinking through vitally important issues – in the hopes (as grandiose as this might sound) of moving all of us, in some small way, toward a better future. As opinionated as I might be, I hope and believe I’ve remained open to changing my opinions based on other peoples’ respectful, well-thought-out responses and alternative views, and that I make that clear in the way I engage others. And I know I’ve learned a lot and grown tremendously from dialogue with people who disagree with me.

But then I end up on a facebook friend’s thread on how to respond to Palestinian stone-throwing where real live people make comments like this: “penalty should be public stoning. tie them to a post and allow the local populace 30 minutes of free stone throwing. or they could choose option B which is a public caning by a female IDF officer (10 should suffice) while standing in a bucket of pigs blood.” How does one even begin to respond to such a statement? I took a friend’s advice to report the comment as hate speech, but hearing things like that from a person who is only a couple degrees removed from me shakes me up, probably more than it should. It makes me hesitant to engage in further discussion, and I find it also makes me respond less rationally and thoughtfully to other topics. The experience (and others like it) is making me wonder how much to open myself up to hearing from people who strongly disagree with me, versus how much to maintain a smaller circle of people with whom I am open to conversation on these issues.
This experience affected me especially harshly since it came on the heels of a recent decision to relax my usually stringent criteria for accepting facebook friend requests: the “friend” on whose wall this was posted is not someone I know in real life. But he sent me a friend request and I decided to accept because, although our opinions in general seem to be very different, I had been impressed by his thoughtful and respectful mode of discourse on a number of facebook threads. And then this.
I would love to hear suggestions of constructive and positive ways to respond to such vitriol, beyond defriending people, ignoring, or anonymously reporting hate-filled posts. Is it worth it to respond when people make such emotional and vile comments? In what ways, and whom, does it help?

One thought on “Public Caning While Standing in a Bucket of Pig's Blood: The Facebook Dialogue Dilemma

  1. I’ve wrestled with those questions myself and I’ve taken a very wide berth when it comes to FB friends. To date, there has been only one person whom I have blocked for consistently interjecting with irrelevant personal insults.
    Regarding “dialogue” my approach is usually to *try* to have a conversation. If it’s on a heated topic, I’d tend to ask for clarifications or more detailed explanations and then, maybe, minds can be changed. Also, I’m offended by different statements such as inconsistent or double standards, or outright hypocrisy. “Hate speech” is something I find to be too subjective, sometimes based out of ignorance or anger based on personal experience, but everyone is going to have their own red lines.
    I have two general approaches to arguing or being critical. The first is to reject what I consider to be mistakes/falsehoods/whatever because it needs to be rebutted. The second is to try to convince other people of a different approach. I’ve personally found that IMming or having private conversations is much more effective than FB wall posts. In order for any argument to be productive, both parties need to entertain the possibility that they could be wrong. Sometimes this means speaking to people in a non-aggressive manner such as not to raise their automatic defenses.
    Picking your battles is important. If you want to have a relationship where you’re in a position to influence someone, you might have to let one disagreement go in order to have the possibility to influence someone in another area.
    Finally, sometimes these sorts of things take time. Someone who is used to speaking in a certain way which others find offensive may not realize just how offensive it is and might not know how to correct it. Changing one’s habits and patterns can take a considerable amount of awareness and effort, qualities not often found on the internet.
    It might take more time to influence someone, but as my father would say, “are you trying to win arguments, or people?”

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