Not since Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt have we needed someone to lead us all away from the social media apps on our phones and desktops to a Promised Land free of nasty comments, snarky memes, bots, vicious trolls (aka Russian bad actors and your Aunt Phyllis), fake news, calculated psychological and political warfare, and general maliciousness.
Sure, there are great things about social media. I love seeing cute photos of my friends from high school and college and updates on their lives and photos of their kids and puppies and such. If it weren’t for Facebook, I would have no idea what 90 percent of these people are up to. But then again, do I really need to? Yes, for some of them (the ones I was truly close to at one time), but no on most of them. My time would probably be much better spent focusing on the friends and family around me than scrolling through 66 images from the album “Spring Break Vacation: 2018” of someone I really didn’t do much with 25 years ago and haven’t spoken to in the same amount of time. Why do I need to see pictures of kids I have never met eating ice cream at the Magic Kingdom? I don’t!
But still, social media is also truly great for spreading the word on charity functions or GoFundMe campaigns for folks who need help. During times of disaster or when a family is desperately in need, it’s hard to imagine how you could achieve such terrific and rapid results without it. But, of course, it is so flooded with such requests now it’s overwhelming, and with recent news reports of how a couple who raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to help a “homeless veteran” turned out to be a hoax, it will get more and more difficult to trust these things. Of course, scammers are going to work this harder than a Nigerian prince who needs assistance transferring your money to their account. (Don’t worry — he’ll totally pay you back — and with even more money than you transferred!)
And still, it is also a valuable tool in the news business. Though you have to wade through a lot of muck, reporters get lots of leads by seeing what people are discussing on their pages. Things like “Not sure what’s going on but there are 15 cop cars at [fill in the blank].” Or photos of ditches or potholes the city or county hasn’t fixed for six months, or complaints about utility bills, things like that. It’s also a very good way to track down sources and, of course, share your work.
But while it is a great place to get information, it is also a great source of misinformation. Certainly we have all heard by now how the Russians infiltrated social media during the 2016 presidential election and the Kavanaugh hearings, and just last week we learned it’s not just Vladimir and his gang perpetrating these acts, but American companies who did it right here in Alabama during the special Senate election between Doug Jones and Roy Moore. And if we think this isn’t going to continue and just get much worse, then we are bigger fools than Aunt Phyllis, who actually believes all that insane crap she posts.
But even the most savvy social media consumer is going to have an increasingly hard time discerning what’s real and what’s fake, because “they” have gotten so good. Washington Post columnist Max Boot recently realized someone had taken one of his columns and Photoshopped an incendiary and fake headline on top of it. He only knew this because he started getting attacked on Twitter about it. And it looked exactly like one of the Post’s web pages. There was no way you would be able to tell it was fake unless you were familiar with his work and knew it was something he would not pen. Though he took all the measures one would take to try and correct this, the fake image is still floating around on the web. And will forever. There is no telling how many people read it and then never saw the follow-up pieces saying it was completely bogus. And sadly, many probably wouldn’t even care as long as the piece supported their particular political leanings.
And we ain’t seen nuthin’ yet, friends.
The next presidential election on social media is going to be an absolute sh*t show. It will feature full-on assaults from the Russians, Chinese, Democrats, Republicans and any number of other countries and special-interest groups who have their own agendas and targets.
I’m exhausted just thinking about it. And, oh lawd, Aunt Phyllis is going to get carpal tunnel syndrome joyfully sharing all of this hateful misinformation and fighting with her nieces and nephews who challenge the veracity of her posts.
All of this stuff is really problematic and troublesome, but what I really hate about social media, and Facebook in particular, is this notion that it “connects” us. Does it really? I guess it connects us to folks we really wouldn’t otherwise be connected to, but, again, is it really necessary to know all of this stuff about the peripheral people in our lives? I just don’t think so.
And in many cases, it has weakened the relationships of the people we really should be connected to. Like a friend you used to call on her birthday or go have coffee with all the time. Now, you just like and comment on her posts and she does the same to yours, and that is the only interaction the two of you really have anymore. And that’s not real human interaction. Seeing her in person, just the two of you over lunch or coffee, you will be able to see if things maybe aren’t as perfect as they seem in all of the photos she posts. And you could talk about it and support each other.
And remember how cool Aunt Phyllis used to be before she sat in front of a computer screen all day? Still a little crazy, but she took you to get ice cream and did stuff with you, as she muttered conspiracy theories. But at least you were still together.
Those interactions are dying.
Liking and commenting has replaced real-life liking and commenting and being with each other. We are the most disconnected connected society ever.
With all of this said, am I about to announce I am deleting all of my own social media accounts? Nope. For the reasons I have stated, I think it is a necessary evil at this point. But I am limiting my consumption of it and staying far away from the many toxic pits and cesspools on these platforms as much as possible. And I am planning on spending way more time with people I care about in person, telling them how much I LIKE their new haircut and COMMENTING how good it is to see them and how I look forward to the relationship we once again can SHARE.
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