Deborah Hill Cone

Deborah Hill Cone is a Herald columnist

Deborah Hill Cone: With Facebook friends like that ...

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Sometimes making yourself get to know someone who appears on the surface to be 'not one of us' can lead to surprising and delightful outcomes. Photo / Thinkstock
Sometimes making yourself get to know someone who appears on the surface to be 'not one of us' can lead to surprising and delightful outcomes. Photo / Thinkstock

There was a screaming meme (boom boom) doing the rounds on the internet last week: 27 Middle Class Problems.

It showed pictures of attractive young people looking wistfully through rain-spattered windows: "I think I've put too much water in with my quinoa", "I have a papercut on my iPad finger", "My pool cover won't close properly".

This column probably fits in the same category. When I first joined Facebook I said yes to anyone who asked to be my friend.

So I'm friends with both lefty Trevor Mallard and righty Cameron Slater and a whole lot of other people I don't know from a bar of soap.

This seemingly careless lack of discrimination was not entirely without a rational basis. I don't really believe that people in "my tribe" - people who marched against the Springbok tour, people who know who Baudrillard is, whatever - are generally any more worth knowing than in any other tribe.

Sometimes making yourself get to know someone who appears on the surface to be "not one of us" can lead to surprising and delightful outcomes.

Auberon Waugh would agree. "My grand philosophical conclusion at the end of the day is that humanity does not divide into the rich and the poor, the privileged and the under-privileged, the clever and the stupid, the lucky and the unlucky, or even into the happy and the unhappy. It divides into the nasty and the nice."

The influential thinker Viktor Frankl concluded, while incarcerated in a concentration camp, that there were only two races of men, decent men and indecent.

No society is free of either of them, and thus there were "decent" Nazi guards and "indecent" prisoners, most notably the "kapo" who would torture and abuse their fellow prisoners for personal gain. So my theory was I would be friends with anyone, regardless of their political leanings or anything, really. This has been good and bad. I have got to know some interesting characters. And I now have 1412 Facebook friends. Or rather 1411 Facebook friends, after my "come one, come all" approach backfired last week. I had to unfriend someone after I made a fairly innocuous comment about a National Radio commentator: "Who is X? I ban her from liking anything I like" turned into an unseemly scrap. I can't reprint any of it as I deleted it all, but it has made me question how easy it is even for nice people to be "decent" on Facebook.

Until now I have tended to just post something and then come back later and look at the comments people have written. Pull the pin, stand well back. I figured I didn't have time to be a moderator and couldn't be held responsible for all the views of my many Facebook "friends", many of whom I wouldn't recognise if I passed them in the street.

But I'm wondering whether this is naive of me. Facebook seems to bring out the nastiest as well as the nicest in all of us. How do you find a way to be on Facebook without having to join sides?

The other day a friend (who I know in real life) posted a comment that he had heard a mother at the Thorndon New World asking her children "Tarquin, Artemis, do you want sushi for dinner?" Names changed, but hopefully you get the gist; he was ridiculing their trendy names and seemingly trendy life.

His initial observation led to a "isn't it fun to hate rich people" discussion. (Although I really did once hear someone at the supermarket say "Darling, we need parmesan for both the houses".)

The truth is that we can all look like a total dick if you take one thing we have said and hold it up for careful examination and shame. Step forward Mike Hosking. With this excruciating level of self-awareness how do you ever speak freely without second guessing and censoring every comment you make? Oh help. Insert a picture of me here with the back of my hand against my forehead, Lichtenstein-style going "Oh no! I've got too many Facebook friends!"

- NZ Herald

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