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Time to Unfriend? Toxic Politics on Social Media is Just Getting Started

How to maintain your peace on Facebook.
by Arianne Merez
Oct 18, 2021
Photo/s: Ara Eugenio
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Copywriter Camille (not her real name) splashed her Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram with shades of pink to drum up support for Vice President Leni Robredo's presidential bid and unfriended "apologists" for Robredo's rival, the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos Sr.'s only son and namesake.

On the other side, web developer Mark (not his real name) flaunts his profile photo frame with the text "Sama sama tayong babangon muli" and "Bongbong Marcos for President 2022."

Camille and Mark admitted to unfriending and getting unfriended by relatives and casual connections with the official campaign still months away.

"Nasa point na ko na if Marcos apologist ka, if you support corrupt politicians, murderers, and historical revisionists, automatic unfriend na," Camille told reportr.

Seeing fake news that tout the martial law years as the Philippines' golden age is not worth the stress, she said. "Puro Bible verse pa ang shineshare tapos ganun ang sinusuportahan?" she said.

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Mark said he unfriended those who think that their political views are better than his.

"Bakit kailangan nila sabihin na need ako i-educate? Masyado silang close-minded na sila lang ang tama," he said. "Hindi ba nila naisip na baka pag nanalo si Marcos eh ito yung need ng country natin para maka-move on na talaga?"

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Camille said it's one thing to have different views, it's another to spread misleading and false information. "May time mag-share ng kung ano-ano sa Facebook at mag-TikTok pero walang time mag-research?" she said.

ALSO READ:

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Politics is so divisive that Filipinos avoid discussing it in family group chats, according to a Pulse Asia survey. It's complicated by the toxicity of social media -- where anyone can get away with misleading claims, profanities, and fake news.

When the posts get toxic, is it time to unfriend?

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It's a judgment call said Danilo Arao, who teaches journalism at the UP Diliman, and Ali Gui, a psychologist and life coach.

"If based on your judgment call, if a Marcos apologist for instance can still be convinced to look at the truth, not necessarily support another candidate... then unfriending may not be an option," Arao told reportr.

Protecting one's peace is also a consideration given the toxicity of social media, said Gui

"Generally, it's really not okay to unfriend someone just because you don't support the same candidate for the elections because everyone has a choice. But if the differences have become toxic that it affects your mental health already, that's the time that you consider unfriending an option," Gui told reportr.

Misinformation should be a "non-negotiable," said Arao, also the convenor of poll watchdog Kontra Daya.

How to talk politics on social media?

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When talking to family members, friends, and colleagues about politics, here are some tips to make it meaningful:

1. Be civil

Whether on social media or in real life, civility is important, Arao said.

"Use language that would be respectful of the other side because once emotion gets in the way, sometimes vile language would follow suit," he said.

2. Don't be 'elitist'

Avoid sounding "elitist" when explaining, and personal attacks. Be level-headed and sober, Arao said.

"Yung paggamit ng wikang Filipino ay napakahalaga din sa pakikipagtalastasan unless of course your audience would be more comfortable with the English language," he said.

3. Think enlighten, not educate

Arao said it's wrong to say "educate" because your vote matters just as much as other people's. The proper approach is to "enlighten" with facts and context if beliefs are based on falsities.

It's a fact that the Marcoses stole from state coffers based on data from the PCGG, which was formed specifically to recover their ill-gotten wealth. If a person disputes it, respond with reliable sources.

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"If we are all open-minded enough to learn from each other then civil discourse would follow," Arao said.

4. Engage publicly or talk privately

It's difficult to talk to relatives whose political views are different from yours and those who share misleading information. Consider whether your reply would embarrass or offend them.

"If there is a certain degree of relationship that you want to save, then you address the person privately but if you've already burned bridges and everything is hopeless, might as well go public so that other people can be enlightened with your argument," Arao said.

In cases when people share the same facts but have different analyses, Arao said it's best to engage publicly so that people can see which argument is correct.

Factors to consider before unfriending

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If coexisting in social media proves to be too difficult, cutting ties seems to be the only option. Here are some things to consider first before you hit that unfriend button.

1. Is it the only option?

Is unfriending is the only recourse to maintain your peace? Gui said. Check if unfollowing or restricting the visibility of posts is enough.

2. How important is the relationship?

Relationships take time to build so it's important to consider how much you value the connection.

"You don't build a relationship overnight. It takes time. So before you fight with that person ask yourself first if you can afford to lose them in your life," Gui said.

3.  How will it affect?

Would unfriending help your mental health or would staying in touch harm your well-being?

"Protect your peace. Politics is important but your mental health is important too so if it's really too toxic or too much to bear for you then choose to protect your peace," Gui said.

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Politics is good, politicking is not, according to Arao.

"All of us should be open-minded to having friends with different political opinions for as long as that person has respect for the facts, and not just facts but contextual accuracy," he said.

ALSO READ:

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