Sure, "unfriend" was declared to be the word of the year by the New Oxford American Dictionary, but the experience of deleting is more poignant than the perkiness of "unfriend" would imply.
I am feeling rather sad about it, frankly.
Facebook is a relatively new addition to my life, and I joined only this year. Many of my FB friends are people I don't actually see that often, and the large FB experience is kind of like getting Christmas cards all year long. You get the occasional update of what these friends are doing, you occasionally get photos, where you can marvel at how much they have changed/how they look exactly the same/how big the kids are now. The contact isn't entirely one-way, but it's not really a medium for ongoing dialogue.
The successful ethic seems to be to treat it like an office party--be polite, don't do anything you'd be embarrassed to have your boss/mother/kids see, don't be too provocative and don't discuss money, religion, or politics. Or at least, do so with some decorum, since not everybody agrees.
This is what lead to my decision to unfriend my friend: politics. Specifically, the serial posting of hysterical, apocalyptic political tracts and rants. Someone has called it "the dog whistle of Fox News" and sad to say, that was exactly how it seemed. I'd be living my life, considering issues like health care reform, and TARP repayments, and (my personal issue) the unfathomable insistence of the Current Administration to continue the Bush/Cheney policies around Guantanamo, when SUDDENLY THERE WAS A CRISIS TO OUR AMERICAN WAY OF LIFE!! Some government agency employee that I'd never even heard of was an URGENT MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH and we had to SAVE THE CHILDREN and get this person fired/exposed/jailed/exiled!
And the post would go up, usually with a heading like "This person needs to be fired now!" There, among the rest of the Facebook feed: wry commentary of daily life, the amusingly precocious statements of kids, the mantras people used to make it through their days, the photos and videos and music links--suddenly there was this posting that can only be equated to the "red alert" klaxons of the old Star Trek series. We were suddenly under attack and PANIC IS THE ONLY OPTION!!
Followed soon afterward by a second, third, and even fourth posting of other members of the Echo Chamber of Eternal Hypervigilism weighing in on the same "issue.," using the identical source material but giving the impression that Something was Going On.
"What is this threat to Our Way Of Life," I think, and "Shouldn't I Be Aware?" I mean, I read a couple of different political and news e-magazines every day and they haven't mentioned anything about this IMMEDIATE ACTION NECESSARY item. So, I click the links. And then I read the article(s). And I truly don't get it. This? This?!? is what is SO DANGEROUS THAT YOU MUST CALL YOUR REPRESENTATIVES and LET THEM KNOW HOW YOU FEEL?
This first one I got sucked into was the Van Jones controversy. A smart young black man with a Yale Law degree and an NYTimes best-selling book on lifting people out of poverty by creating sustainable job growth in green industry, Jones was appointed to the Council on Environmental Quality to consult on green jobs creation. He also organized an advertising boycott of Glenn Beck's Fox News program to protest Beck calling President Obama a racist.
Beck retaliated, and suddenly Van Jones was moreterrifying than Osama Bin Laden. A summary of what happened can be found here, and pretty well summarizes my skeptical attitude about the whole thing. After a couple of weeks of this, Jones resigned, and THANK GOD OUR CHILDREN ARE SAFE NOW.
And I didn't get it--I still don't get it. I tried to understand and asked what was so frightening about this man. Sure, he had said some imprudent things, but what had he done? What was he poised to do? My friend wasn't able to articulate any specific threat--just a generalized horror and mistrust of anyone called "communist," "Marxist" or "community organizer." I was called naive because I didn't understand.
Kind of like the old saw "if you have to ask, you can't afford it." If I had to ask what was dangerous about a "self-avowed communist" then I was part of the problem.
There were other incidents after Jones resigned: global warming, Sarah Palin, ACORN, vaccines. All were links headed by a single sentence about how everything is a hoax and a conspiracy and "do your research." There were also posts about what she was up to while living in the middle of the chaos that is raising children--which was why we were friends in the first place.
The one that lead me to unfriend was the current tempest over Kevin Jennings. No, not the Jeopardy champion, but the "Safe Schools Czar." Republicans are calling for his removal FOR THE SAKE OF THE CHILDREN. Again, I have never even heard of this guy, but THERE IS NOT TIME TO LOSE HE NEEDS TO BE REMOVED AND NOT BE ALLOWED NEAR CHILDREN. So I looked him up. I see a man who understands the pain borne by gay school students and who works to alleviate that pain. A man who has created programs to prevent bullying and tormenting of homosexual students.
I also see a lot of people so frightened or disgusted by the idea of homosexuality that any action that does not actively discourage it is considered to be "promoting" it. I see organizations that continue to use innuendo and guilt by association even when retracting previous false claims.
So I post a link where Media Matters looks at the claims against Jennings and disproves them. I suggest that my friend look at what the facts are and evaluate the matter critically. I got this response:
Maybe you should do a little more research about what he's advocating and then decide.
That is what did it for me. The point I was making was that Jennings WASN'T doing what he was accused of. That the claims that he promoted underage sexual activity, or that he advocated pornography and dangerous sexual practices were NOT TRUE. That a man should not be fired from a government position for things he didn't do.
But for her, none of that mattered. She swallowed the nasty stories without question and lectured me on needing to do the research.
So I told her I would no longer engage and I unfriended her. Now I am feeling deeply sad about the whole thing and I'm not entirely certain why. She is a lively and highly social person, fun to be with, deeply committed to her children and an outstanding mother. She makes certain her kids have opportunities and she goes to every single one of their sporting and school events. She is generous with her time and her talents. I can't reconcile the person I know with the way she is so captivated by the politics of fear and hate. I can't believe that the woman who spends hours standing in freezing weather to watch her son play football, who drives her daughter to swim meets all over the state, has no sympathy in her political views.
In retrospect, I would say better than half her Facebook postings were extremely conservative political postings that did not admit of any consideration that there might be a different viewpoint. And when (gently! I promise I was gentle!) asked about her views, she simply reposted the same arguments.
So, I am mourning the loss of my friend--I lost her by unfriending her, but I think I had already lost her to her politics.