To and From Facebook: Being Together in our World of War
July 30, 2014
Last week, I was sitting with a dear old friend on a shady deck. We were enjoying our summer vacation at his family’s beach house. Conversation turned to Israel/Gaza, and we commenced a now-too-familiar dance: judiciously floating tidbits of sentiment to mark each others position. Once we understood that we were comrades (who knew?!) we began ardently discussing the politics of both the Middle East and Facebook: how we were performing this same dance of timid sentiment in the space Facebook (not wanting to offend family and friends, not wanting to cause stupid flame wars, and in my case, as an American academic, not wanting negative ramifications at work). I suggested to him that perhaps, things being as bad as they were becoming, we did not have the moral ground any longer to be silent, or hidden (on Facebook) even if there would be real discomfort caused by revealing our personal positions.
Let me mark my position now, clearly, before I explain my suggestion that we take these conversation to and from Facebook:
- Today’s Position: I am a leftist, progressive or radical artist and intellectual of Jewish lineage who condemns the violence occurring in the Middle East. I support BDS and am anti-Zionist for reasons of personal history, religious, moral, and political philosophy and belief. I am not anti-semitic and love and respect many people who are Israelis. I also love and respect many Palestinians. My father is a Holocaust survivor, and his family (all survivors, obviously) actively chose to come to the US after WWII for many of the reasons that contribute to my own understandings of this complex issue. Some of my dearest friends, family, and respected colleagues do not share my position. My position is that I respect their positions and hope they do mine.
After our discussion on the porch, I took my own advise and began to judiciously like posts on Facebook that marked the ideas and images that supported my position. I also carefully read the posts and links of Facebook friends who held different positions. I did not interact in conversation on Facebook with these friends and family whose contrary links I followed and read because I think comment culture is almost always degenerate and is usually not productive, and also because I didn’t want to become involved in a flame war with a friend of my friend in my friend’s comment stream. At this stage, I felt like Facebook fragments of my position and those of my friends were consolidating while maintaining carefully drawn lines of respect for difference of opinion.
However, as things worsened, I grew ever more bold. I felt it was my moral position to do so as an American Jew. After much internal deliberation (as much as I’ve put into authoring this blog post), I posted a photo of myself on Facebook taken at a protest (led by Jewish Voices for Peace and American Muslims for Palestine) where I marked my position by lying down, playing the role of one dead Palestinian child. I added a caption for further clarity.
I got a lot of likes and even some re-posts. This felt good: in a small way like the solidarity I felt at the protest the day before. But I still worried about hurting my friends and family who hold other positions, and even more so about being properly heard and understood.
While the commonly held understanding of the Internet, and particularly social media, as echo chamber helps to define the situation I describe (because in these spaces we exert real energy to understand, refine, share, and amplify our own position), my current experiences nuance this understanding because of the real shades of difference, and actually care, that are occurring within such echoes. On Facebook, Jews within one family or friendship or intellectual cohort (and our friends and allies) sit in unfathomably close quarters as we hold, and represent, different views on this catastrophe. If we are American Jews—on Facebook, online, and in our communities—our thoughtful conversation and thinking and action about the current war can play a critical part in its outcome. I think we are all aware of this responsibility and power, which has produced our care but which must now inspire other actions.
So, here’s where my charge to leave and return to Facebook comes in. My work on Internet culture consistently returns to a set of criticisms that I want to share here:
- YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and the like, work in the vernacular of the slogan. Things move best, and are therefore seen and considered, when they are easy to digest, “spread,” and understand. While this may well mark a position, it is only that–a mark. For things as complex, important, and deadly as a war, or a friendship, or one’s workplace and professional safety, we need harder, deeper, lengthier conversation or analysis that provides context and interaction. This can happen via many technologies and in other places besides (and also including) the Internet: on the phone, in person, and in lengthier formats like essays, lectures, and art.
- Activism that happens only on the Internet–like posting, reading, liking, and linking on Facebook–is not without use or value (for movements or individuals) but is proto-political, and needs to be followed up (for things of real consequence, like a war) with engagements in the world (of media): like protests, conversations, and even media secession. In an essay on Feminist Online Activism I wrote:
“Activist digital activities need to create linked projects of secession. It is in the leaving that our feminist digital activism truly begins. Activist digital research/teaching/organizing/writing must dare to fall outside of representation. This is not to say that the Internet is not a site for our feminist digital activism, but only when linked, not to another kitty, but to a place, a person, a demand, and an ethical practice of being together.”
“Just as was true for the Arab Spring, social media connected us, spread the word, and gave us an instantaneous and satisfying feeling of support and community, but good old fashioned community built from deep relationships formed and cemented in real places and over long term efforts was what finally supplied the muscle, the meaning, and the deep, take away truth of this awesome effort: Tarek and John are free because we (like they) can make the change we need by working with each other every day, in the places we live, and work, and love. How we can sustain this work, how we can again make local connections move nations, how we can use dominant/corporate social media forms as well as our own networks and technologies to make the world we want, these will be the questions I will continue to ask.”
If you are reading this on my blog, Facebook, or Twitter, I ask you not (only) to comment, but rather to dare to take the time and make the space to engage in the world with others.