On Facebook, I've got, broadly speaking, three "kinds" of friends: academic lawyers, academic philosophers, and regular people (the latter category including some lawyers, relatives, neighbors etc.). The FB habits of these three groups are strikingly different.
Regular people use FB the way I thought it was supposed to be used (and the reason I joined): to post photos of kids and pets, recent vacations, occasionally a bit of personal or professional news. Academic philosophers do a little of that, and so do academic lawyers, but for most of them, that's only a small portion of their posting.
Academic philosophers increasingly treat FB like a blog, a forum for pontification about everything from real politics to academic politics. Until I realized I could "unfollow" people without "unfriending" them, I dumped a fair number of academic philosophers because their pontifications were so tiresome. My advice: get a blog! Anyone who wants to read me pontificating, can come here, but I don't impose it on my FB friends.
Academic lawyers do a fair bit of pontificating too, though not nearly as much as the academic philosophers, and theirs is almost always confined to real politics. The really revolting aspect of some academic philosopher behavior on FB is its "high school with tenure" quality: back-stabbing, preening and posturing, endless displays of righteousness and "pearl clutching", faux solidarity with all the oppressed and "wretched of the academy" (less often the actual wretched of the earth), and so on. An awful lot of academic philosophers on FB come across as teenagers desperately seeking approval and affirmation. I've managed to "unfriend" most of the offenders, but it was really a kind of depressing and sickening spectacle while it lasted.
Why don't academic lawyers on FB engage in this kind of tawdry behavior? Academic lawyers, having gone to professional school and often worked as professionals in practice, may just be more mature as a group (though I also suspect there is a selection effect at work, i.e., those academic philosophers most prone to this behavior are drawn to FB). But another part of the explanation, I suspect, is that academic philosophers are more powerless than academic lawyers: many of the latter are actively engaged in policy work, law reform, and litigation on the issues they care about. All academic philosophers can do is posture and preen on FB.
But what's really interesting is how different the actual lawyers on FB are: there's none of the tawdry displays of virtue and righteousness, and there's hardly any of the pontificating. The explanation there is, I think, pretty simple: they are way too busy to indulge themselves this way. The same goes for most of the other regular people I'm friends with on FB. FB, alas, seems to be evidence that academics do have way too much time on their hands.
ADDENDUM: Reader S. Wallerstein writes with an interesting observation:
To survive as a lawyer (for better or worse, there are lots of lawyers in my family), you need a certain sense of reality and that sense of reality generally makes people less self-righteous. To survive as a philosopher, from what I've seen, you need a high IQ, but a high-IQ, without a sense of reality, may even make people more self-righteous since they feel entitled, due to their superior intelligence, to throw the first and the second and the third stone. Lawyers, while rarely self-righteous or sanctimonious, can be excessively pragmatic and downright opportunistic.
Thoughts from other readers based on their FB observations? Signed comments preferred, but you must include a valid e-mail address at a minimum (this will not appear).