Saturday, August 4, 2012

Politics and Facebook: The afterlife of a post

On July 9, 2012, I wrote a blog post on my blog "Welcoming the Other" titled "Politics and Facebook" (see  I also posted a link on Facebook (of all places) accompanied by a brief quotation from the blog post.

Not only did people respond, over the next month, with comments on the Facebook post, but I received e-mail messages--including earnest expressions of concern from someone who worried he might have offended me (more on that below).  A Facebook friend reposted the quotation, and there were also comments on the original blog post.

What follows is a record of that "afterlife" of the blog post and the Facebook sharing.  First, Facebook (with one confession: when I first posted on Facebook I wrote "Politics" with a typo as "Politcs"--and because people had added comments, couldn't correct it, till now!):

·         Politics and Facebook--why I don't like the mix:

A brief excerpt: George Albert Smith, a president of the Church during the mid-twentieth century, warned, “Whenever your politics cause you to speak unkindly of your brethren, know this, that you are upon dangerous ground.” More recently, President Gordon B. Hinckley reminded us that “political differences never justify hatred or ill will,” and added, “I hope that the Lord’s people may be at peace one with another during times of trouble, regardless of what loyalties they may have to different governments or parties” (see “Instruments of the Lord’s Peace,” Ensign May 2006).

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Garry Wilmore Hear, hear!

July 9 at 1:04pm · LikeUnlike

§        Bruce Young Garry, I want you to know that every time you agree with me (or "like" something I've said), I feel honored and validated. There's something reassuring in having someone who disagrees with me on some things (especially someone of intelligence and good will like yourself) agree with me on other (more important) things.

July 9 at 1:26pm · LikeUnlike · 1

Brett Jensen I think the issue is bigger than politics and facebook... it has more to do with the perception of anonymity on the internet. People that would in person treat one another with respect will hide behind a machine and use every unkind word.

July 9 at 1:54pm · LikeUnlike · 3

Brett Jensen By the way, for facebook, consider unsubscribing from individuals if their posts bother you. I have friends that like completely innapropriate images, and that has worked out well.

July 9 at 1:57pm · LikeUnlike

Bruce Young Brett: Great points. I rarely look at the comments section of online news articles or opinion pieces because most of the comments seem to come from people whose inhibitions against incivility and abuse have dissolved--probably, as you say, because of anonymity.

July 9 at 2:03pm · LikeUnlike · 2

Garry Wilmore

         Thanks for the feedback, Bruce. I have always believed that the spirit of contention is of the devil, but apart from that, I don't claim to know everything -- from which it logically follows that sometimes the people who disagree with me might actually be right after all. And then, especially with regard to political issues, reasonable people can disagree over those as well. At the Judgment Bar, the Lord might have questions for each of us, but I really don't think He is going to be too concerned about whether we were Republicans, Democrats, or just about anything else (although I realize that this assertion might run afoul of unofficial Utah Valley doctrine). The only exceptions, as I see it, might be if we become card-carrying Nazis, or members of some other extremist group that espouses hatred and/or violence, and I can't see either of us ever joining their ranks!

ght actually be right after all. And then, especially with regard to political issues, reasonable people can disagree over those as well. At the Judgment Bar, the Lord might have questions for each of us, but I really don't think He is going to be too concerned about whether we were Republicans, Democrats, or just about anything else (although I realize that this assertion might run afoul of unofficial Utah Valley doctrine). The only exceptions, as I see it, might be if we become card-carrying Nazis, or members of some other extremist group that espouses hatred and/or violence, and I can't see either of us ever joining their ranks!July 9 at 2:58pm · LikeUnlike

Anna Bennion I like this several times over.

July 9 at 3:33pm · LikeUnlike

Bruce Young Thanks, Anna. Same to you.

July 9 at 6:12pm · LikeUnlike

Jill Smith-Sullivan

Thanks for sharing Bruce. I was at a family reunion and mentioned one of the candidates and my oldest cousin went totally ballistic! I walked away and she came back the next day and all was well with NO mention of politics or religion... I feel these are very personal and we really don't owe anyone an explanation of how we feel. I am going to just keep quiet and love my own candidates and never tell anyone. My mother and I were talking about it the other day and she said what we all need to do is pray to our Heavenly Father and ask him to help the leaders of our country. I kind of liked that idea.

July 9 at 6:22pm · LikeUnlike

Great thoughts, Jill. It would be nice if we could be totally open with friends and relatives and not have hurt feelings result. But as you know, family is complicated. I guess it's good to learn strategies for keeping the peace. And your mother's comment on praying for our leaders: absolutely! We all need the good will and prayers of other people. I can't imagine how anyone could deal with the burdens of leadership without having that kind of help.

July 9 at 6:59pm · LikeUnlike

Andrew B Schultz

Professor Young, I have to disagree with your opinion on Facebook and politics. Facebook, along with other social media tools, is as much as anything else a chance for people whose influence would have been very small in pre-social-media days to have a larger voice.

Think of "United Breaks Guitars" (you can Google that if you're not familiar with it, you'll get a YouTube video). That's an example of how individuals can wield greater influence in their dealings with corporations, but politics is exactly the same. If Facebook users are interested in politics, it's completely appropriate for them to post about those interests.

And, Facebook doesn't really have "rules" ... but I think rather than hoping for the establishment of an unlikely apolitical decorum, a good policy is to assume that somebody's political post showing up on your wall isn't directed at you and doesn't require your response, unless it's directly calling you out. It's more like hearing someone talking about it across the room - you may disagree, but that doesn't mean the conversation shouldn't be happening.

I think the larger problem is the animosity that exist in American politics. There's no civility. I used to think that was a modern evil, until I learned about the namecalling in the Adams/Jefferson presidential race ...

July 16 at 5:31pm · Edited · LikeUnlike

You make good points, Andrew, and I don't totally disagree with what you say. Facebook has few rules--making it a bit of a free for all. To its credit, Facebook has also provided some ways to opt out of some elements of the free for all.

I value the way Facebook gives people--including virtually anyone--a larger voice. And I'm not entirely opposed to dealing with some political content. It's good for me to develop some tolerance for opinions I disagree with.

 What I don't like are the following:

 (1) Large quantities of political material each day (much of it from just a couple of people).

 (2) Mean spirited, unfair, disrespectful, uncivil content--much of it also badly distorting what I would recognize as a fair representation of reality.

 (3) The fact that I cannot respond to most of these items, even the most outrageous ones--at least if I follow counsel I feel bound to respect and if I include ward members among my Facebook friends. Even if it were appropriate for me to respond, I'm not sure how effective I'd be in "talking some sense" into my friends--while at the same time keeping them as friends.

 This last point relates to the multifaceted functions of Facebook: for some it is a way of keeping in touch with family and close friends; for others with neighbors and coreligionists; for others it's a way of maintaining professional contacts or even of promoting products or services; for others, it's a forum for promoting political views, candidates, or one side or another in partisan battles. Some of the dissonance comes when one is, or when one's friends are, using more than one of these functions.

 It's true that most of what my "friends" are saying is not directed specifically at me, and I can try to ignore it if I don't like it (despite the large photos and biting captions). Facebook allows me to tone down the voices of specific friends, subscribing only to their "important" content or even unsubscribing entirely. But there's no easy way to eliminate offensive or other unwanted content while keeping the positive and genuinely informative content. I lament the fact that I have to eliminate much or all of the contact I have with certain people through Facebook simply to avoid unpleasant and contentious feelings and to avoid associating certain people I love and respect--and in some cases have significant responsibility for--with those feelings.

 My blog post was mainly a description of my experience and a commentary on contemporary culture. I don't imagine I'll be singlehandedly bringing about an era of good will and intelligent discussion. But I did learn (from some of those who commented ) techniques for minimizing some of the discomfort. And as a result of writing and sharing the post, I had some specific tender, bonding, illuminating moments of interaction with some of my Facebook friends. That made it entirely worth it.

July 16 at 7:14pm · LikeUnlike

Andrew B Schultz

Good points. I have to say that the democratization of media that gives everyone a larger voice makes me wonder about democracy sometimes ;-). A supporter of the candidate I oppose responded to a rather inoccuous twitter post of mine the other day and used the "F" word and "faggot". People like that actually get to vote in this country...

It's also true that your incumbent actually owes a good portion of his success in '08 to his savvy with social media... if it's that important to you, maybe you'll consider voting for Romney :-D

Well, if I were free to "go public" as a political partisan and if politics were the focus of my life, I might just use social media for all it's worth to promote "my candidate"--who isn't Romney, I'm afraid (sorry to say that I keep testing out that possibiity as I watch and listen and can't feel good about it). Sorry to hear about the abusive language you got exposed to. I'm afraid politics can bring out the worst in people--and it's certainly not limited to one side of the spectrum or supporters of a particular candidate. Just look at the comments section of any number of online articles, or even listen in on the language of political operatives working for any of the candidates. It's sad how slimy public and private discourse has gotten

Margaret Young

No excuse for abusive language. I'm with my husband politically, but we've both been turned off by the language and even figurative language we've heard in political seasons. You might not like Pres. Obama, but his characterization of "the silly season" is spot on. What a shame! A nation founded on such wonderful ideals should run its politics in a dignified way, and political spokespeople should be on the front lines defending that dignity.

Kay Draper

amen, my brother and sister; I've been thinking about this myself (not the Church quotes, but but how friggin' sick I am about the whole thing. Sound-bites, out of context quotes, exaggerations, half-truths that people latch onto as soon as they send them and click *share* before checking to see if it is even true, knee-jerk reactions, and, most of all, treating people who disagree with your view as if they are a.stupid and b. evil. (whilst behaving stupidly and evilsih) .

Garry Wilmore

I agree, and I believe all of the election-year slime and mudslinging is keeping a lot of good people and potentially great candidates out of politics altogether. I'm basically a live-and-let-live sort of guy, and as such I am grateful that my own FB friends list includes a number of people with whom I have rather strong disagreements on political and social issues. (My own views tend to be definitely right of center, but not extreme; I'm not a Tea Party type, for instance.) But I try to treat all of my friends respectfully, and they all do the same for me. Why can't the society at large be that way?

23 hours ago [August 2, 2012] · LikeUnlike

Jamie Zvirzdin Good post and good quote! I differ a tiny bit in that I'm okay with letting people know what my political positions are, but I'm definitely NOT okay with saying mean, derogatory, or insulting things about the opposing candidates, just as you were saying. As my mission president, Tad Callister, used to say, you can be analytical without being critical.

18 hours ago [August 2, 2012] · LikeUnlike

Bruce Young Thanks for all your thoughtful comments. Re: Garry's question as to why people in general aren't as civil and agreeable as (generally speaking) our virtual community of sorts is most of the time on Facebook--I'd guess one answer is that we value our friendships over the pseudo-satisfaction of venting and engaging in slash and burn tactics and proving we're "right." But with impersonality--the failure to remember that the other people one is talking to and about are real people--comes a suspension of ethical responsibility, a feeling that "everything is permitted," maybe the false belief that victory matters more than the bonds of affection (to use Lincoln's phrase).

59 minutes ago [August 3, 2012] · LikeUnlike



George Albert Smith, a president of the Church during the mid-twentieth century, warned, “Whenever your politics cause you to speak unkindly of your brethren, know this, that you are upon dangerous ground.” More recently, President Gordon B. Hinckley reminded us that “political differences never justify hatred or ill will,” and added, “I hope that the Lord’s people may be at peace one with another during times of trouble, regardless of what loyalties they may have to different governments or parties” (see “Instruments of the Lord’s Peace,” Ensign May 2006). via Bruce Young

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LikeUnlike · · Thursday at 1:40pm ·

o    19 people like this.

Carli Anderson Very well said. Thanks!

Thursday at 2:27pm · LikeUnlike

Victoria Blanchard If I could like this 50 times, I would.

Thursday at 2:33pm · LikeUnlike

Elisa KelloggShaffer So true, I always hate election years for that reason...wish they had the same method of electing to office by the same method the Lord uses.

Thursday at 5:25pm · LikeUnlike

Zackary Van Valkenburg Great quote Jamie.

Yesterday at 7:08am via mobile · LikeUnlike · 1

22 hours ago · LikeUnlike


This is actually exactly what I've been feeling lately. I'm not a liberal, I'm not a conservative, but I still feel attacked. I wish things would not be so negative all the time.

Jules Young and 3 others like this.
AND MARGARET YOUNG (in fact the first one to share it):

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COMMENTS ON BLOG POST (some a bit over the top, imho; and some more relevant than others--but to make the record complete, here they are):

  1. Wow! My husband outs himself!!
  2. Love it! Wise words again Bruce!
  3. Love your blog title too!
  4. FYI, both of my most active blogs ("Welcoming the Other" and "The Face of the Other") borrow their titles from Emmanuel Levinas--a philosopher whose work I much admire. You'll find more about him here and there in the two blogs.
  5. Hear hear ... regarding limiting posts, just go to that little upside-down caret in the upper right corner of a person's post in your status feed and a menu will pop up. You can then set what level of "exposure" you will get from that person.

    I have a classmate that would just bombard FB with posts from her extreme viewpoint and it was tiresome for me. So I just put her on "Only important" posts and viola! I'm much less annoyed and I didn't have to "unfriend" her.

    Good luck!
  6. What do you think Elder Oaks' stance is re: that same quote you cited after the Religious Freedom devotional he gave supporting/defending the Church's involvement with Proposition 8 in 2009?
  7. To Jefa: Thanks for the advice on how to limit exposure. To LaShawn: I doubt Elder Oaks would disagree now with what he said in 1987. I'm sure he would defend religious freedom (including the freedom of the Church to take certain positions) however the positions, or even religious freedom itself, are currently classified on the liberal-conservative spectrum. (In other words, the principles he's talking about would apply to the Church's support of civil rights and its opposition to the MX missile system as well as to its opposition to abortion, same-sex marriage, or gambling.)

    Meanwhile, I'd like to report on how my post has fared via Facebook. I shared a link on Facebook and have gotten lots of comments--besides which, someone sent me a private e-mail sharing personal experiences and concerns. It appears the post has touched a chord in a lot of people: many of us, it appears, have had relationships with friends or family strained by political disagreements. And many of us have felt the temptation to engage in battle and let the relationships suffer. Whether we've yielded or resisted, it appears these feelings of irritation and contention are intensely unpleasant. It seems to me they can also be damaging--to inner peace and to social harmony.

    It's also pretty clear that negativity in the political sphere is not limited to a particular party or ideology. People of all sorts of political persuasions are capable of being negative, even abusive. As one commenter pointed out, those who are responding (for instance, through comments on Facebook) to a negative political post can sometimes be far more offensive than the post they are responding to.

    Trying to look at the positive, I would say this situation gives all of us plenty of opportunities not only to school our own feelings but to seek that blessed condition referred to in the Sermon on the Mount: to act as peace makers.
  8. Not to disagree with anything you say about the Church's neutrality position, I would add that there is a Federal income tax rule that also has a bearing. Although there are 1st Amendment arguments that churches should not be taxed, the black letter law that applies is section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code that provides, in part, that in order for an organization to qualify for tax-exempt treatment it must be the case that "no substantial part of the [organization's] activities . . . is carrying on propaganda, or otherwise attempting, to influence legislation . . . and [the organization] does not participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distributing of statements), any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office." Thus, a modest amount of "issues" statements is thought to be OK, but there is no allowance for a 501(c)(3) organization to endorse or oppose any candidate.
    Indirectly (not as a lawyer giving advice), I know that the Church has been well advised on this matter.
  9. By the way, I've been aware for several hours that I misspelled the first word in my Facebook post: I wrote "Politcs" instead of "Politics." (It's just a typo; I really do know how to spell the word.) But if I try to change it now, I'll lose all the comments people have made. Which would be a shame.
  10. Chris--thanks for your comment. I've never known exactly what the law is on that matter. I often think of the civil rights movement as something it's easy to consider "political" (though not partisan) in which many black churches and some white ones were heavily involved. I've also read lots of stories about conservative Christian churches--or at least the pastors leading particular congregations--very directly endorsing candidates and allowing the churches' meetings and resources to be used to help in the partisan effort. (Are they endangering their tax exempt status when they do that?) In any case, I am very, very grateful the LDS Church doesn't allow that kind of direct connection between the Church and partisan activity.
  11. For anyone who is interested, I'll let you know what my completely non-expert understanding is on the issue I just brought up (churches endorsing candidates, campaigning for them, etc.). Apparently, it's technically against the tax code (at least if "any substantial part" of its activities are involved). But lots of churches seem to do this sort of thing anyway (including some black churches and some conservative evangelical ones). Apparenty, the IRS isn't likely to go after them, though, unless they get SO involved with the campaign efforts that they cross the line from being a church to being a political organization. The tax code also talks about influencing legislation--but obviously lots of churches are involved in that in various ways, on various sides of many issues. (The civil rights movement was one prominent example, and there have been many less prominent ones.) I suspect that the IRS practice may be similar to what I said about campaigning: they're not going to worry about things unless a church crosses the line from being a church to being primarily a lobbying organization. (Again, let me emphasize that I'm thinking out loud here, trying to process what little I know. These are "hints and guesses," but maybe are something near the real state of things.)
  12. To give another example: A friend of mine shared a photo of Pres. Bush embracing a soldier, accompanied by the caption "this is what a real 'Commander in Chief' looks like"

    I believe you can find the photo at:

    I found a photo of President Obama doing the same:

    And I put both in an album:

    . . . to which I added this message:

    The Constitution designates the President as the Commander in Chief. We're invited as citizens of the United States to recognize our President as such.

    I also added a comment to the photo of President Obama (see!/photo.php?fbid=10150920386645060&set=a.10150920385505060.405072.506575059&type=1&theater ):

    I added this photo in response to one of Pres. Bush hugging a soldier (and saying "this is what a real commander in chief does"). I wanted to remind everyone that this is what ALL commenders in chief do (do you know of one who hasn't?). In this case, to imply that Pres. Obama doesn't hug the troops (or that Pres. Bush didn't)--especially when the photographic evidence is unignorable--is both to disseminate a falsehood and to engage in the worse kind of partisanship, the kind that demeans the institutions, practices, and relationships that make up America's national life.

    (You may notice the note of frustration in that comment--not only at the mean-spiritedness of some of what goes on on Facebook these days, but also at the awkwardness of responding to it. Oh well.)
  13. (Trying to perfect the linking process--the last one should probably have been

A friend of my e-mailed me after reading the blog post, concerned that he had been among those whose political postings had bothered me.  He also recounted his difficulties when a fairly benign Facebook comment of his received a virulently antagonistic response from someone he considers a friend and brother, leading him to end Facebook contact with the friend.

Here was my response:

Hello, dear friend. First of all, I've never had negative feelings (that I remember) about your posts, maybe because you always seem to present things with a smile and maybe because I don't remember you crossing the line of craziness and negativity some people sometimes do.

To be honest, I don't know that I'd want politics to be taken out of Facebook compltely. I think it's good for me to develop a degree of tolerance for hearing opinions different from mine, even through Facebook. My problem has been with frequent posters whose content is often extreme (in my opinion). It's hard to ignore a dozen or two posts in a day and hard not to let them rub me the wrong way.

I've also seen the sort of thing you describe: comments that are far worse (angry and demeaning) than whatever it is they are commenting on. That's always bothered me, even when (maybe especially when) the person making the comments shares my political views.

Anyway, be assured that I was not thinking of you in anything I said that may have seemed critical. One reason I love the Church is that it brings me in close contact with people who are different from me. That contact helps me understand things I would never have understood on my own (plus giving me the gift of many precious friendships). One example: Gene Erekson and I spent many, many hours together when I had a stake calling--and once or twice we brushed up against some issues we disagreed about. I decided I valued his friendship so much I would avoid arguing with him about anything. I can truly say I love him like a brother. My life would be much impoverished if I didn't know him.

The same goes for you. Thanks for trusting me enough to share your thoughts and feelings with me, and thanks for your generous response to my thoughts.

Best wishes,


P.S.: Here's a photo someone else posted--with a sentiment it's hard to disagree with:

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