A Facebook Experiment

Yesterday I conducted a small experiment on Facebook. I had been reading what various people had to say in response to the change in the Catechism’s stance on the death penalty and had become more and more interested in the underlying assumptions being made. So I asked my Facebook friends whether they automatically identified with law-abiding citizens when thinking about the death penalty, rather than what they thought about the death penalty itself or the change in the Catechism’s wording. People took my question seriously and answered frankly. I was particularly struck by the responses of those who had worked in the criminal justice system here in the U.K.. Inevitably, one or two wanted to address questions I wasn’t asking, but the majority simply stated what they thought and why, which I found very powerful. I hope those who responded also found it helpful because the answers threw light on why people react as they do to the idea of a death-penalty or changes in the Church’s view of it.

Most of my Facebook friends are thoughtful people and many are religious; so I ought not to have been surprised by the calm and generous way they responded to my question, but I was. The overwhelming impression I took from the discussion was of compassion and humility. We (I) have become so accustomed to thinking of Social Media and the internet generally as being disputatious and shallow that to see the good side was something of a revelation. People are kinder and less dogmatic than we often allow, but if we want to know what people really think about something we need to try to find a way of asking that does not predetermine the answer. If I got it right yesterday, it was by grace alone. It has certainly made me think about how I phrase questions in the future — and much more.


6 thoughts on “A Facebook Experiment”

  1. There are e several strands to my thoughts on the death penalty. It has to be administered in the name of the people and I seriously doubt we have a clear majority for it in most cases. On the law-abiding front, I worry too about the executioner – we do not lightly charge someone with the (almost ritual) killing of a named person and that can’t be a good position to place a man in. Away from these rather general thoughts, though, I believe some people (e.g psychopaths) are so demonstrably evil that no amount of re-education, rehabilitation or light punishment will change them. For now, we have no way to deal with these folk.

    • Sir I’m not an educated woman but one of the main things that has troubled me about the death penalty is society expecting another individual to carry the punishment out – you put it better than I coukd ever have hoped to.

      I’m so glad Pope Francis has spoken against it. I’ve no idea what the answer is with regards apt punishment.

  2. Your page: safe space for rational discussion of sensitive topics without fear of ridicule, insult or threats (all of which I have received on other pages).

  3. I think Our Lord tells us that if we look at another person in anger, we have committed murder. That makes us all liable to the death-penalty, but Jesus offers us the “life-penalty”, and we have the responsibility of living that out, in our various ways.
    I was interested in the fact that you were so pleasantly surprised at the measured debate on Facebook. From time to time, we hear mention of unpleasantness you have received, though you protect us from it. I am wondering if there is a different tone of conversation/interaction on different social media sites? I only access two of the six you do, so I am curious.. and delighted that you were refreshed by the responses (which were very interesting)

    • Some of the comments on FB regarding the pope’s changes to the Catechism were anything but measured or pleasant, which was why I became interested in what was prompting the different responses. We have a fairly open policy regarding Social Media, so we do sometimes attract people with axes to grind — or even just those who don’t know how to disagree with someone without being aggressive. Not, of course, that I can claim that I am never provocative. Dear me, no.

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