For the last year, my grandfather has moved from reading the printed newspaper every day (Washington Post, NYTimes, Boston Globe depending on where he is at the time) to reading things recommended to him on his new Facebook account, influenced by the internet’s increasingly present algorithms and filter bubbles. The experience is very Red feed/Blue Feed between us. It meant I went from receiving fact checked articles on topics he found interesting to weekly emails from random blogs on the internet that bleed hate from the headline, even before I clicked the links in his emails.
At first my blood would BOIL… why was he sending me things that bash everything I am and do in very poorly formulated sentences and non-existent arguments? The bulk of the page used “facts” taken out of context that were often very outdated about immigration and jobs and technology and Obama’s presidency. I tried to ignore these articles. But they kept coming to my inbox.
I started to read through some of them. Coming from him, it felt really disrespectful and strange. He would never speak to me or my friends with the language I saw in these articles… so why was it ended up in my inbox?
Theory: Maybe I could ask him?
One solution: I tried to write back and note my discontent with the source and asking him what he took out of the source, what could I focus on to make sense of what he hoped I would take out of this article… there was never any response to support the argument or tell me how to read the article as he had. Looking back, I was not really creating a space for conversation and the response probably sounded like: this is garbage, why would you send this to me? Not exactly an open field for discussion, I needed a new approach.
New Theory: I started to think about why he might be sending me these articles, and I think it’s because the subject matter is about things I care very deeply about and this was a source he had found that could maybe help me think about my argument for “the other side.” Or maybe this was him showing interest in the topics I talk about a lot. There was love at the back of the sender, though the resource was like reading a poorly written oped from a hate group that had somehow ended up in his internet searches. Maybe there was another way to have a conversation about the sources or, drop the sources entirely, and offer him my own notes on what I was learning… YES! CONVERSATIONS FROM MY OWN RESEARCH! Civic discussion!
Proposed solution: CUT OUT THE BAD SOURCE ENTIRELY and replace with new info from a trusted source! (Turns out, this is cool option even if I don’t successfully remove the presence of these bad sources.)
To keep trying new things: I started to look at this as a researcher. What is the other side writing about and reading? These are more based in fears and growing fear of the “future” than it was spreading immediate information. Why was this a necessary and/or useful goal for the writer?
New Theory: He is an excellent listener and talks to everyone and likes a lot of what I post on Facebook, which is pretty liberal. He doesn’t think I am terrible or crazy. Maybe he hopes to teach me how to talk to a different group of people and reach them where they are right now. Maybe he is encouraging listening in different ways than I am used to at present.
Solution: Ok, I can engage a new audience and learn to listen in new ways. I can listen and deep canvass and spend time building community. I like to build new communities that support each other. Maybe the fear and anger that is pouring out of the page is trying to tell me something in a different way than I am interpreting the arguments or “facts” here. That this “article” exists may be indicative of something else than it says directly it words, it’s presence as something “valid” to someone is a fact of something else entirely… time to do more research and listening… from here I can grow.
I should note before all of these things, I had to walk away from my email for a while to think about the situation before I could think of possible solutions and angles on the situation. But this was an important lesson because:
- It made me think about where someone who reads/thinks about things completely differently from me might be coming from and find a common ground for a conversation where I did not engage with just pure emotion.
- I can start practicing having hard conversations and defending my views from within my family, where there is more room for forgiveness and failure.
I am sharing my notes from this experience because I hope it helps someone else navigate similar situations. If you are working through this kind of conversation with someone else, good luck!