Tahlequah Daily Press

Columns

June 30, 2014

Threats on social media or elsewhere won’t change any minds

TAHLEQUAH — Last week, when the 10th Circuit Court released its ruling on the gay marriage ban specific to Utah, I posted a link on my Facebook page. Anyone who clicked on the link could read the entire ruling – an admittedly dry piece of legalese that for less-than-literate sorts would require a shyster on standby to explain the verbiage.

I try not to take political positions on my private Facebook timeline. I used to sometimes, in what I considered a polite way, but that offended friends left and right – literally. And sometimes I watched in horror as a thread degenerated into name-calling between people I respect, but who happen to be polar opposites on the political spectrum. A few years ago, a heated argument between two of my friends who have never met prompted one to withdraw from Facebook for several months. Later, he told me (via email) the exchange had freaked him out; he had never been publicly attacked for expressing an opinion before (and truthfully, it was moderate).

When I posted the link about the gay marriage ruling, I didn’t register my own opinion; I merely stated: “The court has concluded that ‘the executive branch of Oklahoma’s government has no authority to issue a marriage license or record a marriage.’ Or apparently, deny one!”

It may have been the exclamation point that caused a couple of my friends to accuse me of “pushing an agenda.” They did this on private message, where other, more rational friends would not be privy to their irrational conclusion. Maybe, for these guys, the punctuation represented a blatant attempt at snark. And that’s one reason why journalists are told to shy away from exclamation points. People tend to view them as conveying opinion.

One of the friends gave up and went away when I told him I didn’t have time to debate my intentions at that moment, though he warned me we’d revisit the issue later. The other said that by merely posting a link about gay marriage, I was, indeed, promoting it. He didn’t like that.

“If you continue to put up things about gay marriage on your Facebook, I’m going to have to unfriend you,” he wrote. “This is against scripture.”

I wasn’t surprised. The intolerance and political polarization in this country has reached such proportions that some folks think they can bully you into saying only things with which they agree, and they’re willing to withhold their friendship to force their point. Joseph Stalin would have been proud.

I asked my friend if he would do me a favor and hastily type in some verses from the gospels quoting Jesus as condemning homosexuality. I was serious, because I haven’t been able to find any, though of course, I know the Old Testament is rife with admonitions. So far, crickets – but he hasn’t unfriended me, either, as of this writing.

I reported the incident on a separate thread, and told others who were paying attention at the moment (social media has a short attention span) that these attempts to curb free speech constitute an interesting element of Facebook. My resistance to this control cost me at least two cherished friends – not Facebook “friends,” but people I have known since high school, or even grade school, and had managed to keep in touch with via email all these years. Both fellows unfriended me because I ridiculed certain Republican politicians. I make fun of Democratic politicians, too, but those zingers have either escaped their notice, or, because they themselves are Republicans, they approved of that particular message.

In both cases, before they told me to get lost, they said I didn’t have the “right” to openly express an opinion, precisely because I am a journalist. I should be absolutely neutral, they insisted, since I might influence someone, and that wouldn’t be fair. Well, journalists have opinions, like anybody else, and as long as the First Amendment still stands, we have the same right to offer them up that everyone else has – especially on our own personal social media pages.

Newspapers have opinions, too, I told the “friends” in my temporary reading audience, but those positions should never be manifest on news pages, only on opinion pages. I can think of a few rags that have, over the years, published front-page editorials, but this is considered gauche by those in the trade. I can also think of a couple of TV networks that only offer one side of any given issue, and unfortunately, that lack of objectivity has brainwashed millions of Americans.

Perhaps that is why a few of my friends try to read something into every news-related link I post. Others flatly state they know which side I fall on, and they assume – often erroneously – it’s the more liberal/progressive one, since I am a journalist, and all journalists are assumed – again, erroneously! – to be liberal. Our publisher has been in the business even longer than I have, and he’s one of the most conservative folks I’ve ever met. But he believes everyone is entitled to an opinion. Even liberals.

In reality, I take a progressive stance on some issues, and a more conservative one on others. This is true of most Catholics, and if you don’t “get” that, try reading up on our current pope.

The Daily Press has not rendered an opinion either favoring or opposing gay marriage, though we’ve received pressure from both sides. When we do have an opinion, you’ll know it: It will appear down the left side of page 6A or 8A, and it will be unsigned. Some people can’t wrap their heads around the “unsigned” part; they’ll call and demand to know who wrote it, either to praise or lambaste the author. The fact is, it doesn’t matter who wrote it; in such cases, the newspaper itself, as a collective entity, is making the statement. “Signed” editorials are really nothing more than personal columns, usually written by a single person.

But an opinion, whether it belongs to a person or a newspaper, is one thing; what the U.S. Constitution says is quite another. The Daily Press pointed out several years ago that constitutionally, without an amendment, we don’t think gay marriage can be precluded. And today, given the fact that 19 states already allow gay marriage, it seems unlikely that supporters could get the necessary three-quarters of the states – 37.5, to be exact – to ratify the amendment.

If we don’t destroy ourselves, Americans will always have the right to hold their own opinions, no matter how abhorrent they may be to others, and they’ll have the right to express them. But they might not be able to force the rest of the country to accept those opinions, even if they threaten to unfriend them on Facebook.

kpoindexter@cnhi.com

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