After a decade of being the latest thing, social media is now longer seen as the savior of society. Since the Cambridge Analytica story broke last month, Facebook and its creator Mark Zuckerberg have went from hero to zero.
It’s taken us a while, but we are finally coming to terms with social media and Facebook in particular. It is not what we were promised.
I myself have mixed views about social media. One the one hand, I think social media has become a play where people can enter a sphere where everyone agrees with you. Especially when it comes to politics, there are groups on Facebook whose sole purpose is to take your political beliefs and make them become the most virtuous thing around while other views smell of the brimstone of hell. This rancor makes it a lot easier to demonize others that have a different viewpoint on things.
Social media also seems to bring out the ugliest part of ourselves. For some reason we seem willing to say things about others that we would never say in polite company. Social media is a place without filters and in without manners.
Overall, I think Twitter and Facebook have made society coarser, meaner and less hospitable. It is threatening to democracy and not simply because of Russian bots, but because when we see those of another viewpoint as someone that needs to be destroyed instead of talked to, it makes for a politics of winner take all by any means necessary.
I can’t blame those who are tempted to leave Facebook if not all of social media. Life would be better without it.
Or, maybe not.
While the thought of leaving Facebook has crossed my mind, I can’t. Not because I’m addicted, though it is a big time suck, but because it is a part of my job. I work to make sure the nonprofit where I work part time has a strong presence on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. I’ve done this for other non profits and churches, so social media is a way that I make money.
But the larger reason I can’t leave it is because of all the good people I’ve met over the years. I’ve been able to reconnect with dear friends that I’ve lost contact. I’ve made new friends with other people. I’ve learned about various issues by asking questions of other followers. Through my work, I’ve helped people get to know about a group they never heard of and maybe find a way to get involved. It isn’t simply trivial.
Social media is not all that it is cracked up to be. But I don’t know if that’s a reason to shut down all of our accounts. Privacy concerns aside, I think we have to learn how to put social media in it’s place. Maybe not check Facebook every five minutes and take sometime to read. Maybe we can do more with those people we’ve reconnected with, like write a letter or give them a call. Maybe we can start to learn that the manners we learned in the real world, apply in the virtual one as well. And maybe, just maybe we can use social media to expand our understanding of the world instead of confirm our biases.
The Facebook scandal is an opportunity to re-examine our use of social media. But going cold turkey is the easy way out. Learning how to manage it? That’s an art. But I think at the end of the day, I’d rather learn how to use social media and not let it use me than to just give up.
So, I will take inventory of my social media usage. I might not be “on” as much, but I will be around. After all, I have to pay my bills.