Intellectual Honesty and Facebook

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.


  1. > That blog post–the accuracy of
    > which could not be verified by
    > anyone not on my Friends list

    Actually, your profile is at least semi-open. I was able to see the post myself, and I’m not on your friends list.

  2. Scott–I did not realize that. (This is what happens when elderly people use technology they don’t really understand!) Thanks for letting me know.

    DET–Actually, you are correct.

  3. Much ado about nothing, in my opinion. Someone says something chippy on the Internet. Stop the presses. I’m not one for gratuitous flame wars, but I don’t have much sympathy for people who get the vapors when someone says something harsh about public officials with whom the people happen to agree. The feigned shock and bruised feelings is nothing more than an effort to chill the debate and force it into a blandness that won’t stir any emotions and will, therefore, presumably be less effective.

    It’s perfectly legitimate to point out the incongruity of allowing the suffering of actual people ostensibly in order to protect fetuses.

    Time to drag out my favorite William Lloyd Garrison quote:
    “I am aware that many object to the severity of my language; but is there not cause for severity? I will be as harsh as truth, and as uncompromising as justice. On this subject, I do not wish to think, or to speak, or write, with moderation. No! no! Tell a man whose house is on fire to give a moderate alarm; tell him to moderately rescue his wife from the hands of the ravisher; tell the mother to gradually extricate her babe from the fire into which it has fallen; — but urge me not to use moderation in a cause like the present. I am in earnest — I will not equivocate — I will not excuse — I will not retreat a single inch — AND I WILL BE HEARD. The apathy of the people is enough to make every statue leap from its pedestal, and to hasten the resurrection of the dead.”

  4. I think the trick here is to stand by one’s principles without descending to name-calling and other content-less modes of debate. I think one can be ardent, committed and even strident, and still be within the bounds of fair fighting–but I do try to avoid the gratuitous slam (your position is wrong because [insert reason] AND your mother wears combat boots. Unfortunately, some people don’t have anything other than anger and/or fear to fight with.

    Lawyers all learn the old adage: if the facts are on your side, argue the facts. If the law is on your side, argue the law. If neither, argue the equities. To which I’d add, if you don’t have facts, law OR equity, yell louder.

  5. Sheila: While I agree almost totally with your last commment, I think any number of people may take ubrage at the stated” “AND your mother wears combat boots”.


    Where is any semblence of scientific data to support that sweeping assertion? Don’t get me wrong here. I don’t make the equally sweeping assertion that such an assertion is a perjorative slam… the contrary, I suspect that there are any number of mothers who take extreme pride in having such rugged footwear in their walk-in clothes closets. (Rumors that Imelda Marcos’ collection including at least one pair continue to circulate……just don’t ask me where).

    I know at least anecdotally that my own mother never wore anything remotely resembline combat boots, nor in her wildest dreams (or letters to Santa) ever wanting to.

    So please, please, practive what you preach and stop this continued incivility. It’s not only unproven but also is utterly lacking in scientific support.

    (And don’t bother telling me you’ve seen leaked E-mails from scientists trying to supress the above information concerning Imelda Marcos. It’s all a one-world socialist plot to put all mothers in combat boots and impose taxes on them……to boot.)

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