By editorial board • 

Facebook groups could use more productive dialogue

Now in the latter half of its teenage years, social media behemoth Facebook has progressed quickly to keep its users engaged. Its current focus is to be a community builder, but, as many recognize, it can just as easily break down relationships and promote “us-versus-them” mentalities.

Facebook first spread on college campuses as a new way for students to hook up for studies and parties. Once opened to the general public, it allowed people of all ages to reconnect with former classmates and share pictures of pets, kids, vacations and their “best life.” The site next created Pages, offering a free marketing tool for businesses, which it then capitalized on by focusing on paid content over organic posts. (It generated nearly $17.5 billion in ad revenue in the first quarter of 2020). Introduction of its News Feed then made Facebook one of the largest news aggregators on earth, eventually leading to heavy criticism of its inability to limit the spread of fake news and extremist agendas.

After the 2016 election, founder Mark Zuckerberg and his team shifted their attention to groups. “Groups are at the heart of the experience,” Zuckerberg said at a 2019 conference. The site’s algorithms increasingly push posts from groups to users’ feeds, driving activity to 2019 levels reported at more than 10 million groups and 1.4 billion people.

With the proliferation of neighborhood and community groups, Facebook has gone from a method to connect with the world to a new way to interact with people who live nearby.

Community Groups — of which there are dozens locally — are essentially ongoing town halls. With people from all walks of life engaged in discussions, it’s inevitable that vitriolic content and heated arguments occur. But in 2020, as those who use the website often should know, the amount of division and sometimes downright hatred toward others has increased exponentially.

The novel coronavirus outbreak and its historic disruption of normal life has added fuel to social media fires. Outrage between community members, neighbors and even friends is making many issues politicized and personal. At times, groups become turf wars where our side is right, your side is wrong, and there’s nothing in between.

That’s not to say that healthy discourse and common sense aren’t also elements of the equation. But for the sake of community, there needs to be much more of that. And it’s up to the those who use Facebook to lead the change. Here are a few tips:

n Limit your use, or even go on hiatus for a bit. Multiple studies have shown the more people use Facebook, the less happy or fulfilled they feel in life.

n Know your triggers. Recognize what causes overemotional responses so you can pause to consider a productive next step.

n Verify your sources. In a perfect world, this would be a given.

n Read news and opinion articles from “the other side.” While liberal thinkers may disagree with content in The National Review and the same for conservative thinkers reading The Intercept, there is value in taking the time to consider others’ opinions on a deeper level. It can go a long way to start a post with, “I understand while you think that, but ...” instead of “You moron ...”

With Facebook such an integral connection for so many people, it’s imperative for users to create productive dialog. Otherwise, the tribalism of social media will continue to infiltrate our everyday lives.


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