The pitfalls of our new social media environments are widely discussed, if not quite as widely understood. A recent personal experience brought that point home to me rather vividly.
A couple of days ago, I posted an angry comment to Facebook about Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson, and their apparent willingness to kill health insurance reform. In Lieberman’s case, it’s hard to know what motivates him. Nelson, as I said much less elegantly in my comment, appeared quite willing to trade the lives of the thousands of people who die every year because they don’t have health insurance for assurances that insurance wouldn’t pay for abortions. I suggested there was a special place in hell for people who would trade away the lives of living, breathing Americans who desperately need access to medical care in order to save an indeterminate number of fetuses.
Admittedly, the language of my comment was not an example of the civility I so often advocate, and criticism on that basis would have been entirely fair.
Instead, a Facebook ”friend” (since “unfriended”) blogged that I had posted a “hate-filled” diatribe about pro-life advocates. That blog post–the accuracy of which could not be verified by anyone not on my Friends list, even if someone were inclined to do so–has subsequently made its way to other venues, morphing along the way into an accusation that I had consigned all anti-choice people to hell.
Was my original comment uncivil? Yes. Should I have counted to ten before posting it? Yes. Should I have framed my criticism in a more constructive fashion? Yes. Did I suggest that all anti-choice advocates would rot in hell? Absolutely not.
The moral of this story (aside from the obvious one that I should practice what I preach!) is that people who are ideologically driven will hear what they think you really mean, rather than what you really say, and social networking sites that limit the ability of fair-minded folks to do some independent fact-checking are just one more reason our public divisions continue to grow.