Should I apologize for a Facebook comment?
April 20, 2016 12:50 PM   Subscribe

My cousin's husband shared an anti-trans video from an extremely anti-LGBT organization on Facebook. I commented that it was "disgusting bigotry," and later that night he deleted his account. I don't regret calling him out, but I do feel a little bad that my comment (may have) led to him leaving Facebook altogether. Should I apologize? If so, how?

Background: While most of my extended family are ultra-conservative evangelicals, we generally get along fine at Thanksgiving/Christmas gatherings. They may "like" Ben Carson and post "blessed" a lot on Facebook, but they don't often express offensive views publicly. When they do, they don't seem to mind my differing views.

I don't know my cousin's husband very well, but we share some interests -- old cars, photography, design blogs, etc -- so I follow him on Facebook and just assumed that he was a relatively liberal hipster millennial. Then one evening, he posted this video, and I called it disgusting bigotry. The next morning, I had several notifications of replies to my comment, but when I clicked to open them the original post was gone, as was his profile. Thinking he might have blocked me (which I would've been fine with), I checked with a couple of other people, and they were also unable to find him in their friend lists.

I don't know if it was my comment or one of the later comments that prompted him to delete his account, but I feel like I should say something. Should I apologize? Is it better to offer an "I'm sorry you were offended" non-apology or nothing at all?
posted by bradf to Human Relations (38 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Absolutely not. I call my Husband's side of the family out (gently, with love) whenever I see crap like this in their time lines.

I had to block his cousin for some ignorant stuff. I tried on other occasions to comment, but honestly, it didn't open discourse, so I just blocked. Things I've put in comments, "This is a facile argument and beneath you." "This is really offensive, I pray you reflect on why you're so threatened by something that doesn't apply to you at all."

Things like that.

But if someone is putting something hateful on Facebook, and they get the fluff blown off their dandelion when people don't agree with it...don't get off the porch if you can't run with the big dogs.

There was nothing wrong with your comment on something that offended you.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:54 PM on April 20, 2016 [42 favorites]

No way. You didn't say HE was a disgusting bigot -- you said what he POSTED was disgusting bigotry. There's a difference, there.
posted by Hermione Granger at 12:56 PM on April 20, 2016 [10 favorites]

Best answer: You can only control what you do. You can't control what he does.
He reacted to your comment by shutting down his account, it seems. That's up to him and honestly none of your business. He had other choices: he could have argued with you or attempted to learn more or deleted your comment. He chose to do this. We don't know why. Maybe he pitched a fit and decided he hates the world. Maybe he just felt he needed some time out from you guys. Maybe he'll be back. If not, is it such a great loss?

FWIW I'm glad you spoke up.
posted by Omnomnom at 12:58 PM on April 20, 2016 [13 favorites]

Alternatively, he might have mass-deleted or blocked people, or even renamed his account.

I doubt you were alone in your reaction, and he may have realized that disgusting bigotry just wasn't going to fly when he had the friends on facebook he did. That's not your fault.
posted by mikeh at 1:04 PM on April 20, 2016 [17 favorites]

Nope. Sorry. Think of it this way: perhaps you owe him some courtesy because you're related, but you also owe something to your many trans fellow citizens whose livelihoods at best and lives at worst are imperiled by this kind of garbage. He has a sad because someone said he was a bigot versus allowing a toxic and ultimately violent (and very, very political) narrative to go unchallenged so that it nudges everyone closer to thinking that it's just okay to feel that way....well, I think he should have his sad.

If you need to contact him about it, you can always say "look, while I regret that you felt shamed, that video that you posted is [untrue, dangerous to trans people, an insult to my internet friends, puts little trans girls in danger, whatever] and I found it very hurtful and inappropriate".

Maybe he's so shamed that he'll change. Maybe he took his profile down because he realized that he had said something unacceptable. I personally am okay with folks realizing that they said something screwed up, flipping out and leaving a space and then doing better. I'm usually okay with "we will never speak of this again as long as you never do it again".
posted by Frowner at 1:04 PM on April 20, 2016 [20 favorites]

I wouldn't do anything online, but to the extent that you interact with him, I'd continue being friendly and wouldn't bring this up. If he acts offended and brings it up, I would matter-of-factly say that you strongly disagree with what he posted, but (if true) it doesn't affect how you feel about him as a person.
posted by chickenmagazine at 1:06 PM on April 20, 2016 [7 favorites]

Oh man, I just started typing a whole thing about all of the emotional labor you should do to make sure that there won't be any blowback when you're at family gatherings. So thank you, Metafilter, for raising my consciousness.

And yet, since we live in the real world and change happens slowly... I think you most likely need to do a little emotional labor here to make sure there won't be any blowback when you're with the family. Maybe check in with your cousin and see what happened. And then drop cousin's husband a quick email and just say "hey, Tom, was it something I said?", or your version of what would be appropriate for your family.
posted by vignettist at 1:06 PM on April 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

If he can't handle people calling him out on his bigotry, then he shouldn't be advertising his bigotry. Free speech cuts both ways.
posted by Solomon at 1:07 PM on April 20, 2016 [66 favorites]

I wouldn't apologize necessarily. However, he's a human being, and he probably feels pretty bad right now. If you want to demonstrate that you see him as a human and not some kind of monstrous unchanging cartoon villain, it might be nice to wait a couple of days (he's probably feeling pretty defensive right now), and then maybe send a warm note to him/the family, maybe about something unrelated, preserving the relationship and letting him -- and any spousal units with him -- not worry so much that you'll treat him badly at the next family gathering.
posted by amtho at 1:11 PM on April 20, 2016 [4 favorites]

You could private-message him and say (if it's true), "I just wanted to touch base about the video you posted the other day. I feel that basic human rights are very important and I deeply disagreed with the sentiments expressed in that video. I feel it's very important to express that kind of opinion publicly to support the people who are targeted and hurt by that kind of messaging. I like and respect you as a person, and I enjoy a lot of what you post on FB, so I just wanted to reach out and let you know my stance on that one. I hope you're doing well and I look forward to seeing you at (next family gathering)."
posted by pseudostrabismus at 1:11 PM on April 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

I try to call people out a little more gently, especially if I know they're from a political stance that is really far from mine. I'm unlikely to change any minds with "DISGUSTING BIGOTRY!", whereas a more mildly worded, "Wow, this is something I don't agree with at all. I think trans people should be allowed to use the restroom that matches their gender identity," could be a reminder to that person that not everyone agrees with them and that, if they really think about it, maybe they don't agree with the overblown rhetoric of the meme they shared, either.

On the other hand, it was his decision to quit facebook, so that's on him, and whatever. It's facebook. You're adults. Who cares. Not to mention that if this person deeply agreed with the meme he shared, he probably didn't quit facebook out of a fear of offending trans people.
posted by Sara C. at 1:11 PM on April 20, 2016 [10 favorites]

Having watched the video, I'm glad you called this out. It's entirely accurate to call it disgusting bigotry, and there's something very pernicious about the way the video masquerades as something sensible and even harmless when it's message is so toxic and horrible and bigoted. It deserves to be called out, and I personally applaud you for being willing to do that.

Now, to more directly answer your question: I absolutely don't think you should apologize for what you said, or ever bring it up again. You weren't insulting him directly, even if he perceived it that way. If he was mortally offended, that's on him. If he's going to post this kind of shit, he needs to be willing to deal with the fall out. And there's always a (probably very small) chance that what you or other people said may have made him question what he did, so that's something to hope for.

Of course, it's also entirely possible he deleted his facebook for some other reason.

tl;dr: You have nothing to apologize for.
posted by litera scripta manet at 1:13 PM on April 20, 2016 [7 favorites]

He probably blocked you. I wouldn't just assume he deleted his account because of your comment. I would not apologize. The video was intolerant and probably cruel. That said, everyone is entitled to their opinion, including intolerant people. We can't regulate and shame everything that offends us out of existence. Exercising your right to free speech in sharing your opinion of it is part of the beauty of the freedom of exchange of stances and opinions we are blessed with. I wouldn't agonize over it. You said your bit, it was what you believed, don't chase after him to apologize.
posted by Avosunspin at 1:13 PM on April 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

Should I apologize?

Not just no, but hell-ass kings no. NO.

You did nothing wrong. He did, he got called out on it, and he got saddlesore over being called out on his bigotry.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 1:17 PM on April 20, 2016 [21 favorites]

In my experience with people who react this way, watch out for this to turn around into a way to put you on the defensive, which is somewhat working: if the other person can make you feel bad for making them feel bad, then they have changed the discussion to how you've wronged them, and not about their initial transgression.

Don't give into that refocusing; you didn't threaten them or cause them to lose their facebook account or bully them into leaving. They took action, for whatever reason, and you're not responsible for that.
posted by AzraelBrown at 1:19 PM on April 20, 2016 [15 favorites]

The thing I am not seeing spelled out in the Ask is what would motivate you to apologize to him. I mean, do you need to stay on good terms with this person otherwise DRAMA will negatively impact your life? Will you be written out of the will? Will he throw you off some forum he moderates about one of your shared interests?

Because if your motive is "Wow, gosh, I had no idea it would hurt the feelings of this bigot to call him on his shit." I think that is a terrible reason to apologize because it sends the message that his feelings matter more than the human rights of the people he happily shits on. And that will just make him feel more okay about being a bigot.

#BigotsHaveFeelingsToo (but not trans people or whatever -- their feelings don't matter)
posted by Michele in California at 1:19 PM on April 20, 2016 [7 favorites]

Think of it this way: perhaps you owe him some courtesy because you're related, but you also owe something to your many trans fellow citizens whose livelihoods at best and lives at worst are imperiled by this kind of garbage.

Yes this. As a trans person, thank you for calling this out, especially if you are cis (not trans). This is exactly what we need people to do, make bigotry unacceptable. Every little action like this helps, and in aggregate they literally save people's lives.

Fuck this sensitive soul who doesn't believe I'm a human being. He can dish it out but not take it? You have zero responsibility here. Be civil to him in person but there's no reason to apologize for calling out bigotry.
posted by AFABulous at 1:20 PM on April 20, 2016 [35 favorites]

Trans people are people - if you cut us, we bleed, etc. Disgusting bigoted videos about us are....well, they are hurting real people. When I know someone who makes nice with an active transphobe, it does not make me feel real great.

I'm not saying you've got to punch the guy in the eye at the next family dinner, but for pete's sake, I don't think you should make nice with him in the actual moment when he is posting something bigoted and hateful. I can understand that people have family pressures on them that prevent them from cutting people off, punching them in the eye, etc, but I can't understand it when folks choose to make nice in the actual moment of bigotry like it isn't even a thing.
posted by Frowner at 1:21 PM on April 20, 2016 [7 favorites]

No, you've done nothing you need to apologize for: 1) he chose to make an offensive post; and 2) you said his post was offensive, not that he himself was offensive.

But here's another thought: did he actually delete his entire facebook account, or unfriend just you? I ask because when he posted that video, there's a not-zero chance he thought he was putting it up for mostly-like-minded people to see; it's more likely that he was 'preaching to the choir' rather than thinking he was going to convert non-bigots to his cause, if you will. But perhaps, just perhaps, you weren't the only one to object --- after all, deleting his entire FB account just because his wife's cousin called him out on it is pretty unlikely, don't you think? On the other hand, deleting his account because he got a shitstorm of complaints from a number of people is the far more likely scenario; if you were the only one who told him off then he'd have just unfriended you and continued doing what he'd been doing.
posted by easily confused at 1:24 PM on April 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: You don't have any reason to apologize.

But depending on your relationship, IMO it wouldn't be a bad thing to reach out, if only for the sake of changing his mind on the issue, and explain where you're coming from. "Hey, look, I have friends who are trans [or whatever is true for you], and this kind of thing is really harmful to them, people get killed, so it's not something I can really let slide, you know?" or something like that -- something that humanizes why you (a person he knows and likes) care about this. It's easy for people to think they don't know any trans people, that this is something that's happening somehow isolated from their real social sphere, and therefore there's no cost to posting whatever terrible offensive stuff since it's all about "others". But having people they know say "no, this is for real, you're really hurting me or my friends" can make them see it differently. In my experience this kind of small scale normalization "no, really, it matters for people I know and care about" is a lot of how the tide turned on stuff like marriage equality.
posted by LobsterMitten at 1:29 PM on April 20, 2016 [8 favorites]

The assumption seems to be that deleting a Facebook account is a bad thing. I'm perfectly happy never having had a Facebook account. Maybe he decided he'll be happier that way too. Facebook accounts are probably not as important to one's existence as a lot of people might think. You might have even done him a favor by being the straw that broke the camel's back and now he'll be happier not being on Facebook.
posted by Dansaman at 1:32 PM on April 20, 2016 [5 favorites]

I try to call people out a little more gently, especially if I know they're from a political stance that is really far from mine

This can sometimes not work out so well. My mother was in town for a while last year while a big thing in the news was hijabs and other head coverings. She started talking about how she likes the nice colorful ones but the people who dress all in black are scaaaaary and she's scaaared etc. I was pretty gentle telling her why I thought that was wrong because she's a nice lady and she's my mom and all, but that seemed to make her double down. After she went home I gather she got on a friend of mine's Facebook when he posted an article arguing against a ban. She said the same thing she said to me. And a lot of people she doesn't know attacked her for it in much less gentle terms. It turns out they were more successful than me, and she is convinced.

Just an anecdote.

But yeah, you have nothing to apologize for. There are some things that call for a more gentle approach, but things like this are fairly black and white and you can call them as you see them.
posted by Hoopo at 1:35 PM on April 20, 2016 [3 favorites]

There are a lot of assumptions you're making about his reaction; I wouldn't rule out him blocking you and the others you've contacted, honestly. If, for whatever reason, you decide you value this connection enough to try to figure out what's going on, I'd go from a position of ignorance; don't assume anything when you ask, and be prepared to get an answer you don't like. And please don't apologize for your views or expressing your distaste for them; if he gets to post repellent stuff, then you get to criticize the repellent stuff. At the most, maybe make sure that he understands that the target of criticism is the video and not the person, but if these are views they've internalized and hold dear, be prepared for them to not easily make that distinction.

Based on what you say your relationship with this individual is (that is to say, some shared interests, but not very close), I'd just ignore it and move on with life, much as it sounds like they're doing. Hey, at least they blocked you or deleted their profile instead of getting into a protracted and heated argument, which is where these things normally tend to go.
posted by Aleyn at 1:41 PM on April 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

No, you shouldn't apologize.

And thank you for calling him out.
posted by Tabitha Someday at 1:48 PM on April 20, 2016 [5 favorites]

One thing to consider: you're probably not the only one who gave negative comments, and, whether all of you/them meant to "attack" him, he probably _feels_ attacked. I'm not saying it's justified, just that it might help you to relate to him if you can anticipate his feelings.

Hoopo: it's possible that your gentle approach with your Mom led to her keeping a more open mind, where an instant rebuke using the word "disgusting" might have kept her from listening (or being open enough to talk about it at all).
posted by amtho at 2:06 PM on April 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

Have your husband ask your cousin's husband. No reason the men can't do the emotional labor for once.
posted by corb at 2:30 PM on April 20, 2016

"If I can't be the boss of the game, I'm going to take my ball and go home!"

He reposted a bigoted video, you (and others) called him on it, and he didn't want to hear a differing opinion, so he quit FaceBook to find some other playground.

Don't worry about it. You don't want to accept his opinions, you can't change his mind, and you're not going to endear him to you unless you agree with his beliefs. Why waste your energy on it?
posted by BlueHorse at 2:53 PM on April 20, 2016 [3 favorites]

Nah, I don't think you need to apologize. If you'd said something personal, or if you two were very very close and they confronted you and said their feelings were hurt, then my response would be that you should apologize regardless of whether this person quit facebook. You didn't insult them, though-- you shared a sound opinion about something they chose to post on a forum where people share opinions.

I would not assume this was (solely) your fault if they did in fact quit instead of just blocking you and your cronies. People take breathers a lot, or get frustrated or embarrassed and rage-quit, or what have you-- let em cool their jets. Inserting yourself into that choice with an "I'm sorry you're offended" is a little much and may actually prolong any negative feelings.

If they pop back up in a few, you may want to reach out about something unrelated to reestablish you're cool. If you want to continue the relationship, that is.
posted by kapers at 3:09 PM on April 20, 2016

Also, if they rage or shame quit, chances are they are reassessing that disgusting vid and they may actually return a better person!
posted by kapers at 3:25 PM on April 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

The argument for apologizing is that maintaining tranquil family relationships is more important than scoring political debating points on Facebook, and it doesn't matter if he started it. It is possible, even healthy, to be both civil with family and to roll your eyes at them as soon as they're out of sight.

That said, I probably would have done more or less what you did myself.
posted by deadweightloss at 3:40 PM on April 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

I agree with everyone who advocates behaving normally/civilly at the next family barbecue, but there's no particular need to apologize. You didn't use profanity or attack him personally or whatever - you were sort of abrupt/harsh but it's not like you were reacting to a picture of his kid.

Having said that, my guess is that he actually just turned Facebook off temporarily rather than actually quit. I know several people who've done this because of overwhelming emotions; they tend to do this more than once and I no longer pay any attention when I realize they've vanished. I suspect he'll be back, basically.
posted by SMPA at 5:08 PM on April 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

I couldn't get through all the way through the video because it was full of logical fallacies. Can you explain why you took the bait?

I think you owe each other apologies, him for posting something entirely devoid of intellectual rigor and you for getting triggered by it. This is what "hide" functions are for.

Since this is not a perfect world, maybe just take a page out of the "wasp" playbook and pretend this never happened the next time you see each other?

If that's not how your family works, and your primary interest is family harmony, then of course you should apologize!! He's obviously short on character and intelligence, apologizing might help him learn something. Is he young? Lacking in life experience or critical thinking skills? Please do be the bigger person and apologize to him (for taking a silly video like that seriously.)

Psst --- He doesn't know the video was silly, he thought it was brilliant and insightful! He doesn't know when he's being pandered to, he can't sense when he is being lied to. He will appreciate your apology, family harmony will prevail, and he will never know you now secretly think he's a garbage person. Apologize. It's win-win.
posted by jbenben at 5:09 PM on April 20, 2016

Facebook comments aren't one-to-one conversation. Everyone who can see his post can also see the comments on the post. Therefore, to let bigotry slide tells all his friends that bigotry is okay. His intent doesn't matter. Even if he was truly ignorant, bigotry needs to be named and shamed.
posted by AFABulous at 5:15 PM on April 20, 2016 [6 favorites]

Response by poster: I picked a few best answers, but thanks to everyone for the responses. I feel much better about just moving on, now.
posted by bradf at 5:26 PM on April 20, 2016 [3 favorites]

Never fauxpologize. If you can't give a genuine apology - not an "I'm sorry you feel that way" fauxpology - then don't apologize at all.
posted by medusa at 8:41 PM on April 20, 2016 [3 favorites]

In the long run, I think there are more effective ways to help people see the world n a less hateful way. But a good callout does not require an apology. If cousin apologized for the bigotry, maybe then apologize for being blunt. But that is unlikely to happen.

The worst possible response is to accept the bigotry. Thanks for standing up.
posted by theora55 at 8:15 AM on April 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

I didn't watch the video but I don't think you should apologise. But in your shoes I might consider reaching out in a way that values connection, e.g. "Hi Bob, I just logged on to Facebook and got a bunch of comment notifications, but the post is gone and it looks like you have deleted your account? I'm not sure what went down after my last comment, and I can't say I'm sorry that post is gone, but I will miss your posts about (shared interests). I hope you are going well and I look forward to seeing you at (family event). Kind regards, bradf."
posted by Cheese Monster at 3:44 PM on April 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

Thank you for doing this. I've blocked my father AND my brother for disgusting racism. I still maintain our very infrequent schedule of talks on the phone and awkward visits. But life is SO MUCH BETTER without having to wake up to find them throwing racist poo at my friends, because even though *I* had them restricted, my comments on my friends' public posts were visible to them.

Stay civil in person and discuss it if they bring it up. But on Facebook? Bye, Felicia.
posted by 2soxy4mypuppet at 8:43 PM on April 21, 2016 [3 favorites]

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