Intra-Campus Discussions More Effective Face-to-Face than on Facebook

Nate Levinson, Sports Editor

Part of what makes Oberlin a great place is that people are so willing to engage in dialogue about serious issues, but the forum this discussion takes place in has the power to detract from the opinions being expressed. Most dialogue that take place in person is constructive, but as students have taken to Facebook to talk about problems at Oberlin, a lot has been lost in translation.

I’ve used Facebook for most of the past six years, and for the most part, I find it to be a useful and sometimes informative site. I use it to stay in touch with far-away friends, keep up to date on what’s going on around campus and occasionally to bestow my “friends” with links I find humorous. It’s not without its flaws, most of which I won’t get into, but overall Facebook serves the purpose I believe it was intended to in keeping me tuned in to the here and now on campus and, to a lesser extent, the world.

Increasingly, however, I find myself disheartened by what I see on Facebook. The majority of posts I see are easy to gloss over and don’t discuss anything profound, but over the past few years especially, I’ve noticed an increasing number of them that attempt to address serious issues on what I believe should be a more lighthearted social media site.

This should come as no surprise since last year’s March 4 incidents, and the frustration stemming from this semester’s disagreements in Student Senate make productive discussion between students all the more important. I applaud members of the student body for looking to engage in dialogue regarding these issues, but there has to be a better place to do this than Facebook. Statuses about institutional racism and social inequality at Oberlin are far out of place on a site where links to quizzes, like the one that aims to find out which Olsen Twin you are, are commonplace.

Using Facebook to inform others about serious issues is absolutely worthwhile, and I’m not arguing against that. I’ve been keyed into a number of important issues in such a way but using the site to call out other community members and make claims about others’ behavior without giving them a chance to speak is wrong. Facebook can create the illusion of familiarity, and too often I’ve seen people use charged language to implicate others that they barely know.

Another issue with using Facebook as a forum for serious discussion is that misinterpreting someone’s words and typing a hasty gut reaction is far too easy. Writing an angry response to someone with a view opposite yours might seem like a good idea in the heat of the moment, but that’s often when unjust words get thrown around. The issue that Facebook then creates is that once those words are entered, they are difficult to take back. Furthermore, the impersonal nature of text makes it easier for people to write things they might not say in person.

The solution to this problem isn’t as easy as creating a different site where the focus could be only on hosting serious discussion. Rather, one of the main issues with Facebook is that it relies on textbased conversation. As anyone who has ever tried to have a serious conversation via text message will tell you, a lot can get lost when trying to convey a point through an electronic device. Even carefully chosen words, which aren’t exactly the norm on Facebook, don’t convey a message as well as words spoken in person with inflection and facial expressions. In person, people are far more likely to bite their tongues, as looking a person in the face and calling them out is harder than doing it when looking at a computer screen.

The impetus for venting about frustrating events on campus is understandable, but there has to be a better way to do it.

I have no interest in trying to censor anyone, and people on Facebook are obviously allowed to post whatever they want from their accounts. But just because they’re allowed doesn’t make it a good idea. Using class time, group meetings, workshops or simple person-toperson interactions to air grievances and talk about the problems facing our campus are always more effective than posting on Facebook. In order to both be taken seriously and to ensure that the meaning of arguments isn’t lost in hastily chosen prose, using sources other than Facebook to engage in discussion is the way to go.

Oberlin is a special place in that it encourages conversation about a host of social problems, but it’s important that we as students choose to engage in that conversation in the right environment.