COVID19 bringing out unpleasant sides of people you thought you liked?
April 24, 2020 2:42 PM   Subscribe

Since the COVID19 pandemic began, there has been so much written and discussed about the virus bringing out people's true colors: selfishness, hypocrisy, willful ignorance, delusion, privilege, racism, "but muh freedoms," and so on. I'm seeing this ugliness arise in a few of my friends. How should I process this new information about them, having now seen them in a different light? How should I reevaluate our relationships? If I "cancel" them now, will I regret it later, when life regains some semblance of normalcy?

I'm very thankful that most in my circles are taking the pandemic very seriously. But for those who have gone the opposite way, the way of conspiracy theories and fake news... what should I do? To provide a case example, I just saw a friend's post on social media basically checking all the boxes for coronavirus lunacy... it's a ploy by the government to control us all, they're manipulating us with fear, don't be a sheep, forget about "the greater good" and protect freedom at all costs.

It's especially upsetting to me, given that several of my good friends and loved ones are medical professionals and first responders. These people, who mean so much to me, are certainly not gallivanting about enjoying their "freedom" while the rest of us sheep are huddled in fear at home. They are terrified to go to work every day, but they do it to keep the rest of us safe, and because if they don't do it then no one else will. Some are too scared to hug their kids or hold their babies because this massive responsibility, that they never signed up for, has been foisted upon them. I also have friends who are immunocompromised and they certainly don't have the luxury of imagining that this is all just a big conspiracy. I was about to rage-reply to his post, but I stopped myself and decided to reach out to the hive mind to see how wiser people are handling this sort of thing.

I know this friend has been hit hard financially by the mandated closures of non-essential businesses. He was struggling to make ends meet as it was before the pandemic hit, so I am sympathetic to his real fear that he won't come out of this okay, and I recognize that some of my disdain for his opinions may stem from my own privilege. He's not like the springbreakers in Florida, or influencers vlogging their camper van trips. I feel it's relevant though that that we live in Canada where there are already robust social support programs available, and the government is stepping up measures to provide additional assistance.

I guess this is a question about what it means to see a person's "true colors," and what should or shouldn't be overlooked in the way they are reacting to an awful situation that certainly affects us all, but affects some people to a much greater degree. This is also a question of whether or not to forgive actions that impact not just the individual, but potentially endanger others in our communities, such as spreading misinformation, threatening efforts to flatten the curve by flouting stay-at-home and social-distancing guidelines, adding unnecessary burden to already overburdened healthcare systems and other essential services, and so on. It seems to be widely accepted that those who tout anti-vax nonsense are toxic, cut them out of your life and don't look back... but is this the same or different? Are these less-than-admirable qualities red flags that I should be wary of in the future, or is this a circumstance of force majeure? What would you do? Or if you're in the same boat now, how are you handling it?
posted by keep it under cover to Human Relations (22 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
What you would think of these people if you never encountered them on social media?
posted by michaelh at 3:07 PM on April 24, 2020 [2 favorites]

Yes, I know exactly what you mean. I have had otherwise intelligent colleagues insisting on going in to the office and putting people at risk for no reason other than hating to be around their families. It's certainly selfish, and I've been fuming about it. But I've also recognized that my own thoughts and attitudes since COVID started have shifted a lot on some issues, and that none of us came into this crisis having all the answers - this is a novel and highly stressful situation for us all. I hold out hope that people can learn and they can change. Dealing with COVID is a long-term situation and some people are quicker learners than others. I'm not planning to be best friends with the above colleagues based on how they are acting right now, but I can hope that they can learn as time goes on. With your friend, I would suggest being gentle, direct to appropriate sources of information if you feel up to it. You don't have to engage if it doesn't help your own mental well-being, but it's also not necessary to cut them out of your life 100% and forever.
posted by Atrahasis at 3:14 PM on April 24, 2020 [4 favorites]

I guess, wait. There's time to reject your friend should this misjudgement continue. But everyone is under a great deal of stress right now, some more than others. Rather than make an almost irreversible decision right now, I'd say, "Wait."

I'd also say, don't be dishonest with the friend about your feelings. He or she should see what they say in the light of other people's emotions and value judgements. But do it without a fight, without a final break.

Easy to say; hard to do.
posted by tmdonahue at 3:14 PM on April 24, 2020 [18 favorites]

The covid conspiracy spouting folks are often also anti-vaxxers, it's all part of a worldview held by extremists at both the right and the left end of the political spectrum. I know a few of them, thankfully not one is a close family member or friend. I personally do not have the energy to engage them in discourse, especially not right now in the middle of this pandemic, so I just ignore them and continue to post stuff that makes sense to me on social media. And I also have family members and close friends who are out there risking their lives as medical workers.

One old friend dismissed me for not being radical enough, I didn't respond but thought of pointing out that, as someone who lives in a country with strong social supports (not Canada), he was actually speaking from a place of relative privilege compared to me as an older fairly low-income woman in the US who worries about her limited savings being wiped out by medical bills.
posted by mareli at 3:22 PM on April 24, 2020 [11 favorites]

Best answer: As I've gotten older, I've gotten less content with the model of a stable, enduring, coherent, consistent personality or "true self." I'm not sure that a crisis necessarily reveals a "true self." Or, to put it another way: we all fail some tests. If you find this behavior inconsistent with their previous demonstrated beliefs, I would suggest trying to extend some patience and charity. There's a lot of conflicting information out there. A authority figure who ought to be deeply respected suggested in an official media appearance last night that people consider mainlining Clorox. It's an epistemological strain even on smart, well-informed people. People are frightened and worn-down. Do you feel you can engage with this person gently? Maybe not directly. More along the lines of "Hey, are you doing okay? You sound pretty stressed-out lately."

On the other hand, if this behavior seems of a piece with prior behavior (or if it just pushes a trend into more radical territory), it may be worth keeping in mind, and possibly disengaging altogether. (It's certainly been informative to me to watch a mild authoritarian trend express itself among the left during this time.)
posted by praemunire at 3:23 PM on April 24, 2020 [59 favorites]

I can't exactly relate in this moment as I'm a pretty political person generally and am not shy about it, and tend to not really stay friends with folks who are at a hugely different end of the political spectrum. But I do have some folks in my life generally that I wish to keep in touch with like this. I tend to mute/unfollow on social media. I don't unfriend or block or anything like that, but I make a point of making sure their posts and such don't just show up in my feed. I choose not to exposed to their opinions as a way of being able to stay loosely connected.

Perhaps this could be a strategy for you with these folks in the short term. You can visit their feeds if you want, but you won't see their posts unprompted in your feed. And then you can sort of sit on this question for a bit. In general, I don't think now is a great time to make our communities smaller. So, get the noise and stress out from in front of you and just think it over for a while and see how it goes.
posted by bluedaisy at 3:52 PM on April 24, 2020 [6 favorites]

once again, this chestnut:

Twitter makes you love people you've never met
Facebook makes you hate people you've loved all your life

Stay off social media or at least ignore stuff that offends you. People are not thinking real hard (or, often, at all) about the stuff they post; that's always true, and especially true now that people are simultaneously bored and agitated and stir crazy. If I nixed every person who posted stuff I dislike, I'd have no friends left.
posted by fingersandtoes at 4:17 PM on April 24, 2020 [8 favorites]

You know that expression never blame malice when you can blame greed or incompetence? I think here it's worth considering the extent to which fear (justified or otherwise) is playing in people's responses. Sure, some people are bad actors but others spread conspiracy theories because the alternative is more frightening - there is no conspiracy that could be stopped and nothing can prevent them from being at risk.

It's also frightening to be dependent on the whim of the government rather than your own efforts for your income, as well as messing with your self image. Many people (me included) don't really think they will ever *need* the safety net that government assistance provides, and I know I'd find that adjustment incredibly difficult. On top of that, for some people, it forces cognitive dissonance, maybe the undeserving poor they have always believed in, aren't actually undeserving. Nearly all of us take the easy way out of first doubling down on our pre-existing views when they are shown to be wrong.

In terms of 'true colours' most important to me is how someone actually behaves to real people. Are they deliberately engaging in behaviours that directly put eg immunocompromised people at risk, or are they sitting behind a computer waxing lyrically about how the sheeple are wrong. Both are potentially dangerous and unhelpful but one of those I would be more likely to find unforgiveable than the other.

Also, if it's helpful you don't have to decide now and for all time whether one of your friends is too obnoxious to associate with. You can just decide whether you want to engage with them today or not. At some point in the future, what you think and feel may become clearer to you.
posted by plonkee at 4:18 PM on April 24, 2020 [11 favorites]

Mod note: One deleted that may have been posted in the wrong thread? Or else was non-responsive to the question.
posted by Eyebrows McGee (staff) at 5:47 PM on April 24, 2020

I'm mainly seeing a couple of Facebook friends posting covid conspiracy nonsense. I just muted them for 30 days. I'll re-mute if they're still doing it once the mute expires.

People who believe obvious nonsense are common. They'll be onto the next conspiracy once this is over. Just ignore it unless you think dropping some truth bombs that will potentially blow up your friendship is worth it. If they ask me, I'll tell them what I think but otherwise I don't care. Let them post garbage if they want to. Report the post if it's egregious misinformation that could be harmful. They won't know it was you.
posted by signsofrain at 5:56 PM on April 24, 2020 [3 favorites]

This is how I'm handling it:

I've rage replied. Regretted it. Doesn't work. Good on you for showing restraint. That was wise.

There can be too much time spent on social media where I end up looking for unpleasantness. There is always something horrible on social media. When it gets too terrible I take a break. I recently rejoined Twitter to follow virologists, epidemiologists, and other experts. I follow a few other people too and the bottom line is that Twitter is horrible. I can't spend too much time there. I have to get back to my novel or artist videos on YouTube or a fun show on TV.

I won't cancel anyone unless hateful. If I see them in real life it's better to unfollow. Facebook is strange. We see the most intimate details of people's lives -- their children, their celebrations, their vacations -- yet we wouldn't call most of these friends on the phone or invite them to lunch. It's weird. So, reconsider unfriending if you see them in real life or have a long history because Facebook is not a serious place. Just unfollow or take long breaks from Facebook.

People have differing ideas on what is real and true. I also have Facebook friends who repeat conspiracy theories and talk about their "freedoms" and their "rights". These are only Facebook friends who I knew in high-school so I unfollow if they are on conspiracy theory tangents. When I have replied on Twitter, I've been called crazy . They said it was up to me to protect myself and my family and not up to them or government. I didn't try to convince them it's a group effort for a number of reasons.

I am a registered nurse. For the last two weeks I have been working at a busy drive-thru Covid-19 testing site. I worked at the hospital today doing administrative work and I'll be back at the Covid site for another week on Monday. I'm not on the "front lines". I'm not an ICU or ED nurse. With that being said, I'm not terrified to go to work. I'm not terrified for my life and I don't know any of my nurse friends who are. I never think, "I didn't sign up for this" because nurses work with patients who have communicable diseases. That's part of the job. If you are at home and healthy, healthcare professionals are not keeping you safe -- you are.

I don't want to sound flippant or discount the fact that healthcare workers have repeated exposure and close contact with patients who have contracted the virus, but everyone is essentially on the "front lines" if they are working in the community.

I try not to focus on how people are distancing. It's something I can't control. I am confident that most people are distancing in my community. I think most people in my country (USA) are staying at home and distancing. There is a very small portion who are not. Your Facebook friends who are talking about their loss of freedoms are probably distancing too.

There is a beloved Instagram personality who visited his elderly mother and family for Easter. I feel no need to condemn his actions, and it seems his fans have had nothing to say about it either. If he were a friend, I would probably think his behavior was careless, but would I cancel him? Probably not.

I have a group of coworkers who are physical therapists and they all hang out with each other in their homes on the weekends. I think they are careless. They are young and they rationalize their behavior. That's the human way.

There is an essay writer I enjoy who has recently received massive hate and condemnation because she traveled from NYC to a cabin in the woods by car and quarantined. She is alone and using precautions. The self-righteous are piling on that she could have brought Covid with her to a rural area, and that she could have used the last ICU bed at the last local tax-payer funded community hospital. She could have but she didn't. The amount of vitriol hurled towards a person who uses precautions is extreme and moralizing in my mind. Plus, there is no last ICU bed. Not as of today and probably not ever, at least in this round of isolating and with this virus.

You might not think I get the big picture either. I get it. This is serious, and we should use every effort to mitigate and save lives, however, the amount of condemnation for people who are using precautions, and even towards those who are careless, is unwarranted in my mind. I am slow to condemn unless the person is influencing others or willfully harming others.

I know that people, including myself, will do "wrong" things. All I can do is be responsible for what I do and what my kids do. I choose to stay at home when I'm not at work. You can make a choice who you prefer to spend time with and who you consider friends.

Good luck and I wish you health and time to do some things you enjoy. It's what I do when I get too involved with social media. These are stressful times. We all need some positive and fun diversions.
posted by loveandhappiness at 6:13 PM on April 24, 2020 [21 favorites]

As a person directly affected by several common forms of bigotry and the pubic policies they spawn, I am going to beg you:


When it comes to racism and other forms of bigotry, engaging with people's wrong ideas on social media is actually an extremely powerful form of allyship. This article is from a few years ago but the central message is evergreen:
[please don't claim] stand in solidarity with me while really excusing yourself of the hard work that is engaging with fellow white people on this issue.

Don’t hide behind “being a good ally” without actually doing any work.

This is the time to remember that your “solidarity” does not render you powerless; in fact, the entire point of your solidarity is to lend the power you DO have to folks who do not.

You’re a socially conscious white person? You don’t share *their* views? It’s disappointing to hear your friends say racist things? You don’t wanna talk to them? I hear you. I really do. But if you don’t speak to “them” who will?

So before you squander the opportunity before you in an attempt to demonstrate your solidarity, ask yourself which choice would be easier: unfriending the guy who attended your birthday party last year because he posted [xyz], OR responding to his post with an open ended question to begin a (likely long and strenuous) conversation?

What would a good... actually, forget good... What would a useful, valuable, effective ally do?
posted by nouvelle-personne at 6:13 PM on April 24, 2020 [15 favorites]

I’m sure you have a few dark corners you don’t choose to share with others. Maybe things you’ve done in the past that you probably wouldn’t have if you had been in your right mind.

Which do you want to be judged by, the fact that you have these dark aspects or the fact that you usually can keep them contained?
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 7:37 PM on April 24, 2020 [2 favorites]

Best answer: What would a useful, valuable, effective ally do?

Gotta tell you, my angry, violent Trumpist death-cult family members who think I ran off to the big city to be a big old godless whore really aren't looking for political cues from me, and I have never seen any of my other family members--even the other adult, fairly politically moderate, white men--engage with them politically in any way that ended other than in verbal violence and general insanity. There are a lot of people who are not reachable and probably won't even have a chance to be until they get cut off from the official reinforcement they're currently getting.
posted by praemunire at 7:47 PM on April 24, 2020 [21 favorites]

I'd wait. No one knows how this will all end up. You could be wrong about some of your assumptions; time will clarify some of those things. You may end up being right about some things and wrong about others. We may all have things to apologize to others for in the end. Give it time.
posted by summerstorm at 9:10 PM on April 24, 2020 [5 favorites]

Well, why rush to cut people out of your life? It's not like you have to hang out with them anytime soon.

In the meantime, consider some social media distancing. I started spending way too much time on Facebook post-corona, and then realized it even makes me dislike people I agree with.
posted by vanitas at 12:32 AM on April 25, 2020 [4 favorites]

It's data. I've learned a whole lot in this crisis about which people I can trust with my literal life, and which ones would throw me under a bus so that they can be more comfortable. You can do whatever you want with this data. Personally, I now know a bit more about who to trust and who to avoid being vulnerable with in my life. Doesn't mean I have to cut anyone out, but this pandemic has taught me which of my friends are selfish and which ones are selfless, and that knowledge is incredibly useful.

Also, none of this is really about avoiding social media. Online life and offline life are not separate.
posted by k8lin at 4:06 AM on April 25, 2020 [8 favorites]

I have had a lifelong policy of refusing to tolerate idiots. I cut them out of my life. I’m nearly 60, I’ve never regretted it. I don’t need that shit in my life. I’d rather spend my time helping good people.
posted by MexicanYenta at 7:18 AM on April 25, 2020 [5 favorites]

This is also a question of whether or not to forgive actions that impact not just the individual, but potentially endanger others in our communities, such as spreading misinformation...

You are concerned others in your community might receive, and falsely believe misinformation -- but isn't this what happened to your friends you are considering canceling?

You have an opportunity to influence your friends (to a certain degree), more than you do any of these others in your community who don't know you, that you are concerned your friends will spread misinformation to.

YOUR actions, in how you communicate with your friends and others, have the capability to impact not only those individuals, but potentially benefit others in your community by preventing the spread of misinformation.

If you feel that it is right to "cancel" people for their actions, think about how you will feel later about your own actions here. Of course, not everyone has time to engage with people in this way, but you have taken the time to consider this matter and write a well thought out question. Maybe the best thing you can be doing to help during the current crisis is to use your writing skills to help influence others.

You have the capability to communicate well online, and write something that acknowledges nuance in a situation and looks at an issue from multiple viewpoints. That's the sort of thing that can influence people who are trying to decide on a course of action, or unsure about the present situation. Maybe the people you had in mind when you asked this question are too far down the rabbit hole to influence, but you can use your writing skills in other ways to have a positive influence. An open letter to your community, perhaps as a graphic so it can be easily shared, a thoughtful letter to the editor, a carefully considered letter to a business you think could have better practices.

With that in mind, I think you should keep these people on your friends list. Sounds like you have some prolific posters of misinformation and this will be a great way to keep track of what misinformation is spreading in your local area. Put them on a custom list you can view when you need to research that, and unfollow them on your main feed.
posted by yohko at 11:15 AM on April 25, 2020 [1 favorite]

Consider that a lot of current behavior is exacerbated by stress, fear, adjustment to extremely difficult circumstances. It doesn't excuse jerk behavior, but it clearly contributes to it. I'd consider responding with calm, compassionate reason, or just taking a break from a person behaving badly. One friend has been really annoying on fb, so I unfollowed, and check in occasionally.
posted by theora55 at 12:02 PM on April 26, 2020 [1 favorite]

Unemployment is awful, especially for someone who was barely making ends meet. Add to that the feelings of uselessness and worthlessness that often go along with unemployment. Add to that the fact that, because of the current crisis, finding a new job may be difficult or impossible. Add to that the fact that you can't see any of your family or friends. Add to that the fact that you can't even go out of your house, or do many of the things that would normally make you happy.

Basically, you take a person who was already having a hard time. Then you put them in a situation that would be awful even if we weren't living under a crisis. And then you take away most of the things that would normally help them deal with this kind of situation. This person is going through a really, really, really hard time. This isn't a person "showing their true colors" -- in fact it's exactly the opposite. It's a person who's undergoing an unreasonable amount of stress, in response to a situation that's beyond their control. How do you usually treat people who are going through something like that? Do you cut them some slack, or do you cut them out of your life?

Or, put another way : do you really think it's fair to judge someone by what they say on social media during one of the worst moments of their life?
posted by panama joe at 4:21 PM on April 26, 2020

I had (past tense) a friend whom I casually hooked up with a few years ago who's always been a bit of an asshole and proud of it. In the first two weeks of March he flew to New Orleans and New York, pooh-poohed "alarmists" and then booty-texted me (wanting delivery, no less!) after bragging that he'd been "celebrating Irish Day" all over town earlier. I'd just canceled a visit from my best friend, who was going to drive here with no stops and spend a few days with us just hanging out in my apartment, because we both thought it was irresponsible.

Boy, bye. No regrets. Sometimes people show you who they really are. What you do with that information is up to you.
posted by cyndigo at 4:42 PM on April 26, 2020

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