It’s a sign of how blurred the lines between our online and offline lives have become when a “real-life” disagreement over politics results in being unfriended on Facebook.
That happened to me a couple of weeks ago. An acquaintance with whom I’d mildly (or so I thought) clashed with about feminism, whilst we were out for a few drinks, later went and removed me from their friends list on Facebook. I was a little bemused to have been unpersoned in this way because it wasn’t like we’d had a blazing row and I wasn’t rude to them at all. We had simply disagreed.
Though, they probably have a different story to tell.
It is impossible for me to fully know their reasons for wanting to distance themselves from me. Perhaps it is something entirely unconnected to our political differences, but I doubt it. We live in polarised times. The incredibly vicious American presidential election has certainly taken its toll on civil relations between political opponents, and the initial fallout after the Brexit vote was nuclear, though that seems to have calmed down a little since then.
I was a little bemused to have been unpersoned in this way.
All of which is further exacerbated by the fact that, in the online age, we now inhabit digital echo chambers policed by algorithms that discreetly screen us off from the opinions of vast swathes of people whose views do not coincide with our own. We can also carefully curate our newsfeeds and friend lists to comprise only the information we would like to receive.
Unless one makes a concerted effort to seek out different perspectives, it’s very easy to retreat into a world where everyone agrees with you. Over time, it becomes difficult to understand or trust people from outside that microcosm.
I am certainly not perfect and nowhere near the ideal model of tolerance and open-mindedness. This experience with my former Facebook friend has served to remind me just how unpleasant it is to be on the receiving end of the flip-side of these virtues.
Most people who read this blog will be aware that we live in a time where people struggle to deal with political difference. Ours is the era of safe spaces, no-platforms and Twitter mobs. It’s such a hard thing to comprehend when we are at a point in history where barriers of communication and geographical distance have been rendered practically insignificant. We have unprecedented access to all the ideas the world has to offer. Yet we busy ourselves with blocking them out.