My First Facebook Election, or, How I Became the Country's Biggest Killjoy

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Well I don't know what you old fogies were doing on Tuesday night, but if you were watching television you were definitely missing out. All the hip action was on Facebook!

Now let me just start by saying: I held out against the Facebook craze for a long time. I caved with Friendster back in the day and caved with MySpace and told myself I would never cave again. When one doesn't have much of a social life, one has very little need for social "networking." But then I went to grad school with a bunch of narcissistic, socially awkward writers (like myself), where, at parties, the ratio of photographs taken to conversations had was about 503:1. I heard that people were posting photographs on Facebook. I would see people in class and they would tell me I had been "tagged." I didn't know what that meant, so I would start chasing them. They would run away from me, confused, and it was all very awkward. I had to get an account so I would know what the heck people were talking about.

Once I joined, I found the "groups" to be the most amusing part of the site. Groups on Facebook are very, very stupid. For all of you old fogies who don't know (i.e. Mom and Dad, because I know you're going to ask me to explain all of this later anyway), Facebook users can join "groups" that show up on their profile, along with their activities and interests. Like everything else that happens on Facebook, groups are nothing but an extreme exercise in frivolity. Examples of Facebook groups include the following:

  • Kids Who Hid in Department Store Clothes Racks While Their Mom was Shopping
  • I Believe the Robots are Our Future
  • I Judge You When You Use Poor Grammar
  • The Ultimate Question: Is Soap Self-Cleaning?
  • AA is for Quitters
  • My Phone Exploded on Impact
  • I Use My Hand to Show People What Part of Alaska I'm From
  • End the Genocide in Darfur!

Uh, okay maybe that last one is a "serious" group, but you get the point. In fact, even the "serious" groups on Facebook aren't really that serious, as they require absolutely nothing of their members. In this way, Facebook plays to the spirit of the times. We live in an age when the measure of a man lies not so much in what he does as in what he "supports." The emphasis is decidedly not on our actions or choices, but on some inward, intangible, theoretical orientation toward The Good, which is almost always defined only in the most narrow and superficial of ways. If you want to be righteous, if you want to be open-minded, high-minded, and noble, all you have to do is associate yourself with the right groups and causes, which is to say, you don't really have to do anything. The reverse seems to be true as well: What you do or fail to do doesn't actually matter as long as you support the right things. But more on that later. Suffice it to say, I joined a lot of groups when I first started my account, mostly because I found them to be hilarious. LOL! Note to old fogies: LOL stands for "laughing out loud."

I've always loved the scene in Annie Hall when Annie is moving out of Alvy's apartment. Annie picks up a box of buttons and starts to read them aloud: "Impeach Eisenhower… Impeach Nixon…Impeach Lyndon Johnson…Impeach Ronald Reagan. I guess these are all yours," she says, shoving the box into Alvy's hands.

I wanted my Facebook page to be like that, because come on, what modern day President doesn't deserve to be impeached? I joined an Impeach George W. Bush group, but I couldn't find any impeach groups for the candidates, so I started my own, just to be prepared: "Impeach Barack Obama," "Impeach Hillary Clinton" and "Impeach John McCain." At the time, I also joined other groups like "My Friends Are Getting Married, I'm Just Getting Drunk," "Magic Eraser Enthusiasts" (Have you tried them? They're amazing!), "I Went to Catholic School and Was Pissed When the CCD Kids Trashed My Desk," and "Tagalongs Are the Best Girl Scout Cookies…Not Samoas." (Later that day, my friend Anna joined the group "Samoas May Actually Replace Sex One Day," which was clearly an affront and, needless to say, we haven't spoken since.)

Like most people, I forgot about the Facebook groups I joined almost immediately. Fast forward eight months to….drum roll please….THE MOST IMPORTANT ELECTION OF OUR LIFETIME!! (*Yawn*…Aren't they all?)

I spent all day Tuesday checking Facebook. About 80% of my friends donated their status updates to getting out the vote for Obama. Looking down the list, the uniformity was astounding. (Note to old fogies: status updates are…oh, nevermind!) Facebook kept a running tally of how many Facebook users had voted and everyone was telling each other to vote and writing things like "Yes We Can!" It was like one big public service announcement.

The Facebook population could be broken down into two major groups, not Republicans and Democrats, but rather believers and cynics.

The believers would write: I just voted!

The cynics would write: My vote just cancelled out your vote.

The believers would write: I'm looking forward to CHANGE!!!

The cynics would write: I'm looking forward to CHANGE!!!….ing my underwear. It is Tuesday after all.

The believers posted pictures of "I Voted" stickers.

The cynics posted pictures of "I Farted" stickers. There was even a YouTube video going around that showed a bunch of earnest Americans looking into the camera and saying things like, "I just went into the booth, pulled the curtain, and farted."

Sure it was all a little ridiculous, but so is the nature of democracy in America, so I don't really care. It was all pretty amusing.

Well, imagine my surprise when I received a message the next day from a stranger on Facebook: "Your group has news attention!" It linked to a story that said an "Impeach Barack Obama" Facebook group had already attracted over 700 members, less than 24 hours after the election was called. I was suddenly an "activist."

Not three minutes later I received another message, this one from an irate Obama supporter calling me a racist. I totally panicked. I realized that my only description of the group was: "Get on board if you want to be ready to impeach Barack Obama." Admittedly, this did leave things open to interpretation. So I spent a few minutes hastily writing a new description of the group (which I stole from an article by LRC contributor Bill Huff. Thanks, dude!) This was the new description:

Each president recites the following oath, in accordance with Article II, Section I of the U.S. Constitution:

“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

This group has been created under the assumption that it takes approximately 7 seconds for a modern day President to violate this oath. So we should be ready.

“In some governments it is held that ‘the king can do no wrong;’ here we know no king but the law, no monarch but the constitution; we hold that every man may do wrong; the higher he is in office, the more reason there is that he be obliged to answer for his conduct; and a great officer, if treacherous, is a great criminal, so that he ought to be made to suffer a great and exemplary punishment.”

~ Elementary Catechism on the Constitution of the United States, Arthur J. Stansbury, 1828

I went back to work, confident that my new description would clear up any confusion about my motivations. Well, either my new description wasn't clear enough or people don't read. I suspect the latter. There is also the possibility that most Americans cannot understand politics except in the most simplistic terms. When was the last time you heard anyone in the two major parties bring up egregious abuses of executive power as an "election issue"?

Here are excerpts from the colorful hate mail I've been receiving ever since: (Warning: Profanity)

you are a racist motherf__ker, you know that? you cunt! this was such a leap into the future, but you republicans can’t seem to see that bitch. U know u are an ignorant Bitch! Uneducated and uninformed hick! Kill yourself. Shame on you, you represent the worst of America. F__king hick! HAHAAAAAAAAA! YOU MAD CAUSE OUT PRESIDENT IS BLACK?! FUCK YA! ITS OUR TURN NOW BITCH! HAHA! FUCK MCCAIN! FUCK YOU! AND BE MAD CAUSE OUR PRESIDENT IS BLACK! HAHA! DUMB BITCH. F__k you. f__king prick. i hate you racist bitches. you racist, ignorant swine. I’m reporting you to the secret service. Hey by the way you forgot to Impeach bush. Ur such a Loser for makin this group like it or not he is ur President and ur opionion really doesnt matter!!!ELMAO.. IGNORANCE. You truly are showing that you are a person who has no morals. Just a quick note to let you know what a traitor you are to the United States of America. racist cunt. asshole. You should do something for the country that has granted you freedom and equality. Shut your mouth and move somewhere else. get hit by a bus. You are disgusting. Kill yourself. End yourself. (And my personal favorite) It’s people like you who are anti America that create a mindset full of hate. (And my other personal favorite) Breeding hatred is all this group is doing by attracting weak minded, ill informed dumbass republicans, christians, and racists.

These people clearly align themselves with the enlightened, tolerant, forward-looking left, and I'm sure they "support" all kinds of warm fuzzy causes on their Facebook pages, but in their prejudice, in their vitriol, in their willingness to make the most general and sweeping judgments about others based on the most superficial of criteria, they expose themselves as no less reactionary, hateful, and irrational than the "dumbass republicans, christians and racists" they despise.

I can't help but think that the bipartisan Establishment has Americans exactly where they want us. People are so polarized by the Left-Right dichotomy, so convinced of the other's Evil, they can't think objectively about anything.

The group's numbers exploded on Thursday when Vanity Fair posted a blog about the group and described me as "The Unlikely Mastermind Behind the Impeach Obama Movement." For better or worse, I have not limited or censored "my" group in any way. Anyone can join, and people can write and post whatever they want. As of this writing, the group has over 6,000 members, 3,000 wall posts, 228 discussion topics, 41 links to articles and videos, and 74 pictures and political cartoons.

I'm not pleased or impressed with 90% of what is happening on there, and I don't really want to be associated with most it, but I've simply not had the time or the inclination to regulate it. I think it's fair to say that if I ever aspired to a career in politics, those dreams would be shot. All anyone would have to do would be to point to a few of the more vile pictures and comments (and there are plenty to choose from), say it was written "under my name," and I would be done for. (Sound familiar?)

Now that it's the weekend, I'm trying to figure out what to do about this. It's quite a pickle. People have been sending me messages telling me I should appoint "officers" for the group. Apparently, officers can help you "clean up" the chat boards and delete things that are being posted by "trolls," but I'm not sure I even want to try. What if I recruit officers to help me regulate the site and something slips past us (which it will, because who has time to monitor all this stuff?) If you're in the business of censorship, then won't anything that is left on the site have the implicit stamp of "approval" on it? In that case, isn't a hands-off policy best?

In moments of disgust at some of the more obscene nonsense, I've considered deleting the group altogether, but I don't think I want to do that, especially now that we're getting press coverage. On some level, groups like these do send a message to the political establishment: There are substantial numbers of Americans who view the entire federal government as illegitimate. Anything that works to de-sanctify and de-legitimatize the state, that encourages people to view all politicians as self-serving frauds, as emperors without clothes, is a good thing.

I've recruited fellow LRC contributor John Delano to be an officer, and I think we're going to try to write a more detailed description of the group by the end of the weekend, but I'm off to meet someone for lunch and I was hoping to get some reading done today and I wanted to cook a nice dinner and maybe go on a hike, so I don't know. The sun is shining. Real life beckons.

The one thing I have had time to do is to respond to some of the messages that have come to me directly. Below is an exchange with "Harry," the only person who emailed me before the new description was posted (before he could have known what the group was really "about"):

Harry: you are a racist motherf__ker, you know that? this was such a leap into the future, but you republicans can’t seem to see that. you’ll be getting more messages from more of my friends, you cunt! sincerely yours, bitch, Harry F. and America

Ellen: Hi Harry, Thanks for the message. For your information I also started an “Impeach Hillary Clinton” group and an “Impeach McCain” group and I am also a part of an “Impeach George W. Bush Group.” I don’t have a problem with black people, just politicians and the federal government in general. Don’t jump to conclusions! Ellen

Harry: sorry, ellen. i just encounter so many racists its hard to distinguish them from the rest of the republican party. no hate whatsoever. henry

Ellen: I’m not a republican either. Just FYI, here is the new description of the group. [insert new description of group]

Harry: sounds cool, good luck

So, maybe there is hope after all?

Ellen Finnigan [send her mail] graduated from the University of Montana in May with an M.F.A. in Creative Writing. She currently teaches writing online to Catholic homeschooled kids and was the organizer of the Missoula for Ron Paul meet-up group.

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