Whether it’s the Paula Deen scandal or the latest DOMA ruling, people will use Facebook to express their two cents on anything and everything. For those who prefer to grab some popcorn and watch as the fireworks of Internet debate go up in smoke, it’s cheap entertainment. For those who prefer to jump in on the action with guns and opinions blazing, though, it’s nothing short of debate. But here’s the problem: Facebook can never foster a solid debate and will almost always cause more harm than good. Why? For these three reasons below.
1. The 420 Character Maximum
Today, the expression of opinion serves primarily as a persuasive tool to convince others to adopt your opinion. It’s as simple as that. So when you use a 420-character maximum status to persuade your 600 “friends” of the advantages of gay marriage or the shortcomings of Obama, you’re hurting yourself and your argument through the lack of a fully developed discussion. It takes more than 420 characters to formulate a valid and convincing case for anything, and without the necessary evidence and research behind your claims, your opinion means nothing.
2. The Value of Face-to-Face
Last semester I took a course titled Literacy and Rhetoric, in which we read Plato’s Phaedrus. In the book, Plato claims that face-to-face dialogue serves only one purpose: the discovery of truth. It doesn’t matter whose opinion is right or wrong as long as both participants are closer to finding the truth at the end of the conversation. According to Plato, this kind of debate can only be done in person. He expressed a great distrust of writing as people can misinterpret tone and context without the opportunity to ask questions or give feedback. Can you imagine what Plato would say about Facebook, where we are 100% physically isolated from the public we’re engaging?
3. Identity and Opinions
The last issue speaks more to the nature of society than Facebook, but it all comes back around to social media. According to Aristotle in Rhetoric (yes, another class read) the biggest fault in debate is when we merge opinion and identity. If someone says they’re pro-life, they’re probably religious, conservative and from the south, right? Be it right or wrong, associations like these are for the most part inevitable and inescapable. Based on these associations, people may be more or less inclined to hear your opinion in the future depending on their own views. So before you comment or post your emotionally-charged political commentary, remember: your identity will be attached to those 420 characters.
Overall, I’m not saying we shouldn’t express our opinions. That’s almost as dangerous as ignorant debate. I’m simply saying that if you think you’re going to lead your friends to the light with a clickable-link to Fox News, think again. Facebook is not the new Roman Forum.
Do you agree? Disagree? I’d love to hear what you think about Facebook rants.