If you wasted any time online this past week, you may have found yourself baited toward one of two social media sensations. One had to do with determining once and for all (or never) whether an unidentified hotel guest in a photo posted to Facebook is wearing pants or not.
The other one was a little less worthwhile. It had to do with running a diagnostic screening on your Facebook friends list to determine who among your so-called friends have signaled their unwavering support of presidential hopeful and nearly done souffle Donald Trump’s increasingly fascistic political views by clicking “Like” on his Facebook page at some point in their lives.
The frenzy all started with the viral spread of FriendsWhoLikeTrump.com, a URL that merely redirects you back to Facebook and autofills a query to the site’s sophisticated Graph Search function, in this case: “My friends who like Donald J. Trump.”
The result is a list of friends bearing the Scarlet Like, the profile pictures like mugshots in this new context. The URL stares on in silent judgment: “It’s none of my business, I just thought you should know.” And the destiny of this hastily summoned manifest is clear: [draws finger across throat] That means defriending.
Or at least, that’s the implicit idea. If you’re not the implicit type, several blogs were all too happy to spell it out. A Huffington Post piece pointed to the craze, under the subheading, “The unfriend button has never been more important.” The way Distractify put it — “Facebook Now Lets You Find And Delete Friends Who Support Donald Trump” — you’d think Mark Zuckerberg personally rolled it out as a feature with a matching anti-Trump sticker pack. (The fact is you can easily batch together likers of just about anything.) Buzzfeed’s step-by-step tutorial “Here’s How You Delete Your Facebook Friends Who Like Donald Trump” cuts out the middleman entirely and ends with a satisfied sigh: “Now your Facebook is clean and pure.”
And that was when a creeping feeling blossomed into full-grown creepy feelings.
Imagine, if you will, your social circle as the sovereign state that it is. Not every potential ally outside its lines will be perfect, nor will every perceived enemy pose a particular threat. Generally speaking, we tend toward open interpersonal borders in our lives, especially online; we welcome newcomers to our social media fold with not much more vetting than a few clicks of profile research and some tacit optimism that the more can theoretically be the merrier. That's awfully nice of us.
Now imagine combing through this general population to identify specific individuals closely, loosely, or barely associated with and/or in proximity to an unsavory character or ideology. Imagine compiling a list of those names and publishing it; or maybe not bothering with that part and just running them out altogether.
I’m running out of metaphor juice so let me just say it. If this is you I’m talking about, you are straight-up Trumping your friendzone. Yes, you are. And it’s not cute.
For the last few days, my feed has been clogged with dozens of friends and acquaintances posting of the horror, betrayal, and confusion surrounding their discovery of Trump likers lurking among and amid their friends. They posted proudly of the fresh cuts they’d made — this aunt, those classmates, that ex — and commenters followed suit with pride, as though they’d all finally gotten around to scraping that wasp’s nest from the rain gutter.
Some took a direct approach with their inquiries: “Why have you ‘like’d Trump’s page?” asked one post with simmering directness, publicly pinned to the Timeline of the offending liker, who responded that liking the page allowed him to keep track of what the candidate says and what others say about him. (We call this “social media.”) “Fair enough,” was the reply.
(I like to imagine he then briskly handed back the gentleman’s papers and waggled his flashlight dismissively, clearing him to pass before stopping the next old-timey car.)
I’ve discussed the dizzying dynamics of defriending and the many shades of liking before, but it bears reiterating: Sometimes a like is a clear endorsement (I’ve found solidarity in communities like I Only Check My New Voicemail to Get Rid of the Little Icon on the Screen and Pretending to Text in Awkward Situations), other times it’s a tracking device. Other times — say, five years ago — a like for Trump just meant you watched “The Apprentice.” And while that’s still deeply lame, it’s more a proclamation of bad taste in television than of one’s politics.
None of this should be read as an apology for Trump, the worst and most dangerous presidential primary candidate of my lifetime and maybe yours.
Nor is this a call to self-aggravation by maintaining friendships when differing views grow too divisive. Nor is it a plea for us to leave our proverbial windows open for just any noxious fume to drift in because it’s good to get a whiff now and then. Nor is this a push toward having real-life discussions with the people in our lives with whom we disagree. These are all good sentiments, but they’re not what I’m talking about.
This is just a warning about the follies and hazards of ridiculous assumptions and self-flattering performance.
If Trump’s ideas and approach so fill you with dread and concern, there are more productive ways to push back than adopting wholesale his game plan of blind judgment and banishment. The man is out there, he’s running for his party’s nomination for our country’s highest office, and, so far, he’s winning — and he’s doing it whether we “like” it or not.Michael Andor Brodeur can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @MBrodeur.