Friday, July 24, 2009

Facebook, Cong. John Carter, and Cognitive Dissonance




“Unfriend” or “de-friend”. Verbs (neither in Used in social media as a verb meaning to disassociate one’s self with another inside of that social medium’s framework. “Unfriend” is actually in as a noun, a synonym of “enemy”. So, why am I looking up these terms? I am witnessing an interesting dynamic in social media.

It is very similar to the detached tirades people may launch in email. As you know people will say things to other people, particularly if they don’t know them or don’t know them well, in email that they would never say to their faces. One person asserts an opinion diametrically opposed to yours, and you respond. It goes back to one of those things my mother taught me, and I am sure that her mother taught to her: If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.

Recently on my favorite social medium, a “friend” was threatening to “unfriend” someone else because of a political position taken in one of the medium’s constant “polls”. My friend no longer felt friendship with that person not just because of the position taken, I don’t think, but by the way it was written.

My friend along with others began discussing the purpose of the social medium, Facebook. Wasn’t it supposed to be a fun, safe place where folks could reconnect, catch-up, and converse? Why, all of a sudden, did Facebook start including political issues that would enflame someone one the other side of the issue? Would you vote for Sarah Palin? Would you vote for Obama again? “Are you in favor of a Government run healthcare system” is the current question. [At the risk of being unfriended, my answer, were I to participate in these polls which I do not, would be “Yes”. Why? If you needed health insurance, and you had a pre-existing condition, you’d know.]

I suppose these questions give FB a new edginess. Certainly, I have learned new things about some of my friends because of these polls. Some of their responses have surprised me. Since these people are really friends, not just virtual friends, I discovered new information about them. If nothing else, I learned never to discuss (Blank) with them when we are socializing or at family gatherings. Further, I like knowing points of view that might challenge my own. It keeps me thinking.

Rather than a “social” medium, however, Facebook can become an “anti-social” medium. Yes, I have “unfriended” a few people who were not personal friends either because they went on and on and on about everything in their lives—everything. Or, I finally decided, after reading responses, I didn’t want to see that sort of response any more. Toss in some touchy political issues and this “unfriending” action leads toward polarization.

I fervently believed that the election of Barack Obama would knit the nation closer together. No. It has created a new and more frightening polarization, and the media is re-enforcing it. These annoying FB polls are part of it, forcing people to choose publically “Yes” or “No” on a potentially polarizing issue. At least the voting booth is still a private sanctuary. Why do people take these polls? Probably because they are ardent supporters of one side or the other. We choose up sides.

Further, this past week, first on the cable news networks and then in the mainstream, there was renewed reporting of the incredible question of whether Barack Obama is a natural born citizen of this country as the Constitution requires. I thought that this was settled months long ago. Reasonably rational people came out of nowhere at community town halls and otherwise to claim he is not. Irrational people like Watergate felon G. Gordon Liddy was given a moment in the sunshine to raise these questions once again.

Even Central Texas Congressman and former district judge John Carter is a support of something called HR (House Resolution) 1503. HR 1503 would “… amend the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 to require the principal campaign committee of a candidate for election to the office of President to include with the committee's statement of organization a copy of the candidate's birth certificate, together with such other documentation as may be necessary to establish that the candidate meets the qualifications for eligibility to the Office of President under the Constitution.”

Do we need this? Qualifications for President are already practically etched in stone.

Before this hit the spotlight of the evening news this week, I discovered Congressman Carter’s support. I, by the way, know Congressman Carter and consider him a friend or at least an acquaintance. When I saw his endorsement of this resolution, I learned something new, and it is something that Central Texas voters should know.

I passed it along to at least five colleagues working in area newsrooms. None of them have approached Congressman Carter asking why he is supporting HR 1503. I don't know why. Doesn’t Congress have something better to do? I don't know why someone in the mainstream, local news media doesn't pursue this.

This resolution is simply a distraction to the work at hand—healthcare reform.

The “friendship” and possible polarization inside social media may be related to politics, and it all can be explained by the Theory of Cognitive Dissonance explained by Leon Festinger. If your “friend” believes (blank) and you believe (blank) then you can be friends. If your “friend” who believed (blank) and you are very opposed to (blank), either you must reduce dissonance or cease to be friends.

“Any time a person has information or an opinion which considered by itself would lead him not to engage in some action, then this information or opinion is dissonant with having engaged in the action. When such dissonance exists, the person will try to reduce it either by changing his actions or by changing his believes and opinions.” (Leon Festinger, The Theory of Cognitive Dissonance”, “The Science of Human Communication” edited by Wilbur Schramm. p. 17. Basic Books. 1963). There is much more for perhaps another time.

One way to reduce dissonance is simple in social media: Be anti-social and unfriend. Problem solved. Polarization spreads.

© Jim McNabb, 2009


WDYC said...

I have been defriended (I like that better - closer to defenestrated) for not being politically correct. It was no great loss, as both who did it were out for "my way or the highway".
Still, it would have been nice if they actually had read and reasoned, rather than reddened and ranted.

Chris Wilkinson said...


One of the reasons my wife and I moved back to Austin was because of the real, as in not fake, tolerance of others views, religions, skin, etc. Sure we can disagree... and I do about Govt. run healthcare, but that does not make me a bad person. Too many folks are taking these healthy debates too personally and lashing out with such strong emotions over a simple difference of opinion.

This was the norm in the Pacific Northwest... very progressive, intensely liberal, and completely intolerable of a difference of opinion. You wouldn't dare enter a debate unless you were really ready for the consequences. I now see the beginnings of that here, and it's too bad. So who is to blame? The media? Maybe. I think it's the stress of the times and the "anonymous" nature of widespread opinion. I'll soldier on as a typical middle of the road American Republo-Crat and try to keep things in perspective as I tread lightly on Facebook polls.

Chris Wilkinson

Anonymous said...

OU sucks......I refuse to change my opinion of that nor will I listen to arguements stating otherwise, aside from that I very much agree with you and Jim I very much enjoyed this article.


BarryE said...

When using FB I take great pains to take the 'middle road'. By that I mean that I block the silly apps, and only show support for those causes with which no one (except extremists) can take offense.

These 'safe' causes usually involve being against horrible things happening to cuddly animals. Oh, I will venture to 'like' the occasional totally esoteric or abstruse cause, such as support for Teddy Roosevelt's speech in the 20's about the 'man in the ring'.

Usually I note the obscure or philosophical group or fan page so confuses the hoi-paloi that they can't tell if I'm a lberali or just another old hippie.

Gotta go, as 'A Night at the Opera' is on TCM.

Anonymous said...

I've been wrestling with this recently too. Facebook is such a new means of communication/social medium the lines of what is socially acceptable have yet to be drawn. I would never subject my "friends" on Facebook to my political views. In the same way I would never go into a bar or gym and play a Micheal Moore DVD on full volume. I don't understand why some of my Facebook friends feel the need to put their political views in my face. Its rude and disrespectful and not how I would treat a friend, even a Facebook "friend".

Charles F

Anonymous said...

I simply "hide" the blogs of folks who go on and on, giving them time to redeam themselves at a later date but not clogging my news feed. It is one step away from un-friending. Also, I ignore the polls and quizes -- you can "hide" them as well. I have discovered lots of folks who think contrary to my way of thinking, but that tells me I have an interesting and broad range of friends and acquaintances. So much the better.