I am coming to believe social media is not a force for good. I’m not even sure it is a mixed blessing. Here’s what my Facebook wall looks like nowadays:
- “Funny” clickbait article. (“You won’t believe the breakup text this guy sent his cat!”)
- Plea for donations to pay for health-care costs incurred when someone I don’t know fell off a motorcycle.
- Political article, described as “thought-provoking” by someone who already agreed with every point raised in the article before reading it.
- Fearmongering clickbait article. (“This one common household vitamin supplement killed a dog who looked at it from afar!”)
- Baby pictures of a baby I have never met but feel I know personally because I see a new picture of him every four hours.
- Inspirational quotes posted by people who are mostly inspired to make money.
- A lot of complaining about specific politicians.
- A lot of support for those same politicians.
- Several calls to action from people who inexplicably believe changing a Facebook photo can change the world.
Besides the increasingly banal content issue, over the past couple of years I have been made aware of a number of beefs, each launched by something said on Facebook. I think that’s ridiculous. There is enough real underhanded malfeasance out there that the world does not need to add misinterpretations of judginess and opinionated slapfights. I’ve adopted Allen Iverson’s brilliant defusal of media criticism to deal with it. So next time you hear about a throwdown that started with a status update that failed to account proper respect to something tangential, try this, which I guarantee will smooth even the Donald Duckiest of ruffled feathers:
“Facebook? Facebook? What we’re talking about here is Facebook. Not life. Not reality. Not the world. Facebook. What’re we talking about here? We’re talkin’ about Facebook, man. Not life. Facebook. Is that what we’re talking about here, Facebook? We’re just talkin’ about Facebook, man.”
Twitter is more consistently interesting but considerably more terrifying. Twitter’s anonymity and sense of mob justice turn the whole world into a whispering, snubbing, rumor-mongering, seventh-grade lunchroom. The righteous victory dance around the Ashley Madison hack and the salted-earth destruction of a dentist with an unpopular hobby are good examples. Behavior you find unsavory is not a reason for outing, doxing, and destroying.
Doxing* is one of those things, like police brutality, that has to always be wrong no matter the target because the veneer of civilization lies thin, and what is and is not behavior worthy of personal destruction is not something to leave to the shifting moods of the majority. Applauding the destruction of someone with whom you do not personally agree increases the likelihood that a cause you do agree with will get a turn in the barrel down the road.
For example, you may feel that Ashley Madison “cheaters” got what they deserved. There are a lot of people out there who might feel the same way about publishing a list of Narcotics Anonymous members, or STD clinic clients, or borrowers who have defaulted on a debt.
What is justice to one person may well be a threat to another. A lot of people wanted Kim Davis personally destroyed. A lot of other people will make her rich. Those two subsets share a frightening mentality.
I feel bad for kids who have to grow up with social media and the ever-present danger of cameras. I got to have experiences and make mistakes as an adolescent that would never be acceptable in today’s world, where the threat of permanent embarrassment and shame are omnipresent. (Presuming I had lived to adulthood. From my perspective, that Facebook meme about how “you never forget the kids you grew up with” looks to me like the teaser poster for a horror movie.)
Will I delete myself from Twitter and Facebook? Maybe. That feels unguarded, though, because right now social media feels like a game you have to play just to avoid losing. How much fun is that?
*Doxing is “the process of retrieving, hacking and publishing other people’s information such as names, addresses, phone numbers and credit card details” (from Technopedia. The definition goes on to actually describe the “most popular” purpose of doxing as “coercion”).