Why We Need You to NOT Unfriend, Unfollow, or Block Those You Disagree With On Social Media

Photo by Martin Knize via Unsplash

Recently someone in my Facebook timeline posted a particularly strong opinion regarding gun control, then went to bed. By the time he woke up the next morning, he discovered that two people he knew had traded arguments and insults in a thread of over 100 comments.

“Well,” he wrote. “You guys have been busy.”

It often seems that we as a world population are more sharply divided than ever. Post an opinion you have on Facebook, anything from the best burger joint to the reason there are so many shootings in this country, and within moments you’ll probably have people vehemently arguing for and against. Some will support you silently with a “like” while others block the post. Some will sing your praises and others will compare you to dog feces.

This is especially true with the hot-button issues of the day: Donald Trump, Syrian refugees, shootings, ISIS, abortion, gay marriage, politics. Never before have we had the forum, and felt so free, to disagree, insult, or take issue with the opinions of people we don’t know and will never meet.

The fractures between us seem to be widening.

* * * * *

About a month ago I started getting involved with a refugee organization here in the city of Lancaster called Church World Service. They help refugees arriving in central PA get acclimated to life in a new country. I asked them if I could help tell the stories of the individuals they were helping, they said yes, and off we went.

A few weeks later, the shooting took place in Paris. Suddenly I realized that many of my friends were against the continued reception of Syrian refugees. I had spent the previous few weeks hearing stories and meeting these hardworking refugees, and my friends didn’t want more of them to come to the US.

I was devastated.

I couldn’t imagine why someone would have the position. I got into a few back-and-forths on Facebook regarding why Christians, of all people, should be helping refugees, no matter the eventual outcome. I felt my insides getting more and more agitated, sort of the way you feel when you start walking across the beach and realize after ten steps that the sand is actually burning your feet.

My initial reaction? Unfollow. Unfriend. Block. I was struggling with the proposition of reading opinions that were diametrically opposed to the things I cared so much about. I wanted to eliminate the source of anxiety.

If anything, this is where social media has become so destructive. It gives us the forum to share our beliefs and opinions without apology, and then it offers us the option of erasing those we disagree with. Before we know it, our online world is nothing more than a group of people affirming our deeply held beliefs and opinions, something that only serves to more deeply entrench us in our positions and alienate us from those who think differently.

Conversations on Facebook start to look like this:

“I believe …”

“Yeah, you’re right!”

“Yeah, thanks!”





* * * * *

Look, I know it’s stressful/annoying/tedious to realize people you know and love are ignorant/stupid/misinformed (or maybe smarter than you).

But we need you to stop alienating yourself from people who disagree with you. Here’s why:

1 – If you are right, if the opinion you have is so correct and righteous and true, then why are you getting upset? You need to stay friends with the idiots, if only in the hope that at some point they will start to see the sense you are making. This will probably not happen on Facebook, but it might. I’ve changed my mind on a lot of things in the last five years, mostly because I became friends with people online and started to recognize the validity of their beliefs.

2 – If you are wrong (and I know that is probably impossible to imagine at this point), then you are the idiot, and hopefully something they say someday will click with you.

3 – If you are both right and wrong in different ways (and I suspect this to be the usual case), then perhaps your opinions and beliefs, by getting together and hanging out a little with the opinions and beliefs of others, can procreate into some third, new, transformative way of viewing the world. Wouldn’t that be impressive? Wouldn’t that be fun?

* * * * *

Next time we’ll talk about why it’s important to share your opinions and beliefs regarding important matters in a tone of kindness. I know – that’s a hard one to grasp. For now, consider keeping the lines of communication open between you and people who think differently. Dialogue with (and about) each other in respectful ways.

The future of humanity might depend on our ability to talk to each other across the wide open spaces created by disagreement.

8 Replies to “Why We Need You to NOT Unfriend, Unfollow, or Block Those You Disagree With On Social Media”

  1. This is really good Shawn. I’m normally Conflict Adverse (I’m waiting for it to be diagnosed as an actual condition, complete with its own drug commercials on TV), so I normally steer clear of the angry posts on FB. But the last few weeks, they’ve been impossible to avoid. And like you, I’ve been devastated to hear how diametrically opposed some of my close friends and even family are to positions I hold dear.

    My natural reaction was to do what you describe: unfollow. Block. But my sister gently said what you say here. She plays the role of a shepherd in our family, so I know part of her motivation was to keep the family from flying apart. But she advocated well for leaving doors open, staying calm, learning to agree to disagree, even about issues that feel so foundational to us.

    Then I talked to my husband, and he took it a step further. He’s seen me walk a path the last few years in which I have shed many of my childhood convictions in favor of (what I would say is a more) humble approach, which is to say: I believe this, but I may be wrong. I have fewer hills on which to die (I used to have hundreds), and I am always aware of the fact that I am not God. I am not the Judge. I do not have to defend The Truth, because none of us hold it completely, and it will outlast us anyway. So, my husband argued, why can’t you extend that same viewpoint to the people whom you love with whom you vehemently disagree? Why not say, at least in my soul, “I think they are dreadfully wrong about this. But it is not my responsibility to change their mind; only to live out the truth as I see it. It’s possible their ideology will be softened by interacting with me and hearing my stories. But it’s also possible they won’t change. The good news is: the Kingdom I carry into this broken world has very little to do with changing opinions and more to do with love.”

    It’s been my meditation the last few weeks. Thank you for sharing this.

    1. That is so good, Kelly. I feel like you’ve spoken for me! So many similarities with what you’ve described. Thanks for taking the time to write that out.

  2. Shawn, I think this is a much-needed reminder about why these conversations on social media are so important. Social media is the town-square of public discourse now. No matter how painful it is, we can’t allow ourselves to be insulated in echo chambers of comfortable opinions. I think even with family members and close friends, these conversations keep everyone honest and realistic. It’s part of a healthy democracy and faith community, to confess our beliefs on a regular basis, and work them out with fear and trembling.

    But I also wanted to say, as someone who whole-heartedly agrees with you on this, that I’ve learned the hard way that blocking people or hiding my content is necessary sometimes. I never wanted to be that person who had to cut off communication in this way – it feels like I’m giving up on people. But I think we have to have discernment for the difference between painful-but-necessary conversations about justice, and allowing abusive people to sabotage our relationships. I’ve kept the lines of communication open on social media for a long time, and recently have had to make some tough choices to hide my content and disengage with some people really close to me. Speaking up will inevitably have negative consequences because some people just don’t want to hear it, but we also need to take care of ourselves. We can’t be afraid to draw healthy boundaries when the people we love can’t do it themselves. Hide, block, say “I love you, but we have to agree to disagree. Facebook is bad for us, so we have to communicate elsewhere and about things that don’t include politics.” Sometimes it’s hard but necessary.

  3. Shawn, well written and articulated. Really perfect!! The issues facing our world are multifaceted and thus resolution may require an interesting mix of passion with humility and actions cloaked in love and grace. It seems that battle lines are drawn all around us and it feels at times like they are closing in, some self inflicted others imposed. It’s a shame that we too often focus on the sides rather than keeping the main things prominent and working at the issues from common ground. Thanks for your commitment to keeping your heart open I will hear your wisdom and choose to do the same.

  4. Shawn, I read this post two days ago and am still thinking about it. I can’t say that about many things I read! I believe that you are right – for all the reasons you stated and Kelly’s in her comment as well. But darn it, I’d rather do the easier thing and ignore THOSE PEOPLE in my Facebook feed! SIGH. Thank you for this gentle challenge and needed conviction. :)

  5. Hi Shawn

    I thought about you position and I disagree with you.

    I think we should unfriend, unfollow and block people with irrational belief systems.

    Would you want a follower who always posted about the need to wear tin foil hats to prevent aliens from reading your mind? No matter how many web sites and studies they profide that support their position I would tire of them very quickly. There is no proof I could present that would change their mind. The only proof that I would convince me they were right they would be unable to produce.

    While I have used an extreme example, there are other beliefs that are just as wrong but are popular with many people today and they would defend their beliefs a rabidly as the tin foil hat brigade.

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