The dark side of social media

#thinkdifferent

If we at Ganador are nothing else, we are early adopters. (e.g. first 1% of Twitter users.) I like technology. I am a big fan of the transformative powers of the internet – and I don’t think we have scratched the surface of it.

One of the internet products that has exploded as we all know, is social media. Whilst there is nothing wrong with social media in principle, it has enabled and magnified some human behaviours which really did not need to be so enhanced. Much like handguns and rifles are not responsible for schoolyard massacres, the fact that is freely available enables and empowers people who really shouldn’t be so empowered.

Some of those behaviours originate from the dark side of social media I can really, really do without them.

astroturfing.jpg


Unnaturally Nice

Twitter is awash with perfect strangers being so excessively polite it can only be described as preternatural. I don’t advocate rudeness, but where ‘liking’ and ‘following’ and ‘endorsement’ is the measure of success, there is a natural disincentive to disagree. Not re-tweeting something is the passive-aggressive (de facto) response to every tweet. If you were honest, how often do you find yourself disagreeing vigorously with someone, but not voicing that difference of opinion? Even if you convince yourself that you don’t have the time to argue with everyone, the real reason you don’t is because you are afraid of the consequences.

The social media playbook instructs authenticity; warts-and-all, but you try to find someone with their warts on display.

Ingrates and Self-servants

I observe how people pick opinion leaders and influencers to follow and then go about bombarding them with obsequious RTs, little LOLs and other notes of encouragement. I suspect there is a thesis in there somewhere for someone to identify the new terms of endearment for the social world.

I use social media to expose some of my work to ‘the world’. I do that by posting something or expressing an opinion. It is pretty blatant – you can recognise it for what it is. I am definitely doing it wrong because, truth be told, social media itself provides hardly any traffic to my website. There is something honourable about an advertisement though; it does not pretend to be anything but an advertisement.

The behaviours that I see are (despite claims of authenticity) really just a bunch of people pretending to be nice and ingratiating themselves with some perceived circle of influence in order to achieve that same self-promotional goal without admitting to it. I prefer someone to be self-serving and honest about it than someone who pretends it does not matter, when it is all that really matters.

At one stage I thought about blocking everyone who RTs a tweet that mentions them – especially if it said something nice – but realised quickly that I then would soon have no one left. How is this practice any different

All about show

‘Slacktivism’ is symptomatic of the culture perpetuated by social media. It is important to be seen to do ‘good’. It is easy and no harm can come from endlessly re-tweeting causes. And it is true that no harm is done to the cause, but it is an indictment to your own shallow self if that is all you do when doing ‘good’ is no longer a means to an end but the end itself.

One of the greatest attributes of the Australian culture (for me) is the strong culture of volunteering. It is powerful and pervasive and a genuine. And it is very unlike my home country. Whilst Census Data reports an increase in volunteer numbers, the reality is the many organisations dependent on volunteering are reporting declining numbers. And non-English speaking households (i.e. immigrants are amongst the lowest in participation rates in volunteering activities, coupled with population growth being driven largely by immigration), it only stands to reason that there is a decline in the ACT of volunteering.

This is in no small part hastened by simple RTs of a good cause which has become a handy substitute for action yet effectively assuages some guilty feelings.

Inanity, Sweetness and Boredom

I abandoned Facebook (with almost no personal use in the 8 months.)  The sheer mindlessness of it all overwhelmed me. Inane quotes, repetitive memes (usually discovered a week late by ‘friends’ who have never heard of Mashable or Upworthy) and meaningless family updates crushed all social graces that I had and I had to get out.

The life people represent on Facebook is not the life they live. It is a distorted highlights reel of everyday life. And really, eventually, no matter how much I like you, I do not want to see another picture of a grandchild, watch another sunset or see another bit of food porn on your plate. I don’t think it is just my friends, but most people are just so freaking uninteresting, so compliant and so eager to please that it is like dining on meringue for three meals a day. There is only so much you sweetness I can take.

But the issue is not boring friends – it is the unrealistic portrait that it paints; as if life is one long holiday. Your life by comparison is boring and it is now proven that this unrealistic expectation excessive Facebook usage actually causes depression. I don’t subscribe to the simple causal link between FB and depression as a theory, but I just find it depressing in the same sense as ‘not uplifting’. Anything that wants you not to think and just passively consume will do that for you.

Everyone is a publisher without an editor

(Yes, irony noted)

Social media platforms don’t have filters. There is no way of stopping people from being stupid, saying stupid things and doing stupid things. I don’t define stupid as the things that I disagree with either, I mean really stupid as in illogical and irrational. (And the sad thing is some smart people can do this too.) Especially people who have found a new religion in ‘scientism’ and share stories they only half understand judging by populist but flawed arguments in comments and updates.

And you know what else I hate about this era of everyone’s a publisher? They can’t spell.

Self-righteousness

Last – and probably most – is the wave of self-righteous that rule the waves. On social media everyone seems to be a follower. Judging by the millions of post providing the seven steps to success in [fill in the blank] the online world is desperate for guidance. The internet will tell you how to do anything. And there is a right way for everything. And it is their way.

The time-honoured traditions of freedom of speech have largely been destroyed. Only one valid worldview remains: Pro Gay Rights, Pro Abortion, Atheism, Anti War, Pro Climate Change et al have amalgamated into worldview that tolerates no dissent and accepts no nuances. Its adherents are more dogmatic about the ‘rightness’ of their position than an ambitious 13th century novitiate.

The recent saga of Justine Sacco illustrates the point. One unfunny tweet cost her career. Holly Rosen Fink Culture Mom wrote a nice balanced piece on that.

Sadly, the only counterbalance to this insanity is trolls. Trolls are vilified almost universally. I think they may actually save us from disappearing up our own bottoms. I hope they stick around and hold people accountable to the reality that allows and includes a difference of opinion. Trolls may not always be classy and they are certainly not always right, but very often they are simply holding up a mirror to pretentious and self-righteous they find unflattering.

In sum

As much as this is a rant about the dark side of social media, I am not suggesting we all abandon every social media platform. For better or worse SM is here to stay, and I would like to make it better.

  • I want to raise awareness about the unintended consequences of favouring ‘being liked’ over ‘being right’.
  • I want to cast a light on the pervasive inauthenticity that flourishes when we favour conformity.
  • I want to warn against the intellectual stifling that will happen when we favour compliance over originality.

If you think that none of the above applies to you because you are paragon of tolerance who are impervious to the social pressure to conform, conduct this little test:

Take your last tweet. Imagine someone RTs it, by adding this epithet to it: ‘This is so freakin’ stupid’. How would you react? Or, alternatively, are you brave enough to do that someone?

I am guessing here, but the vast majority of people would struggle with either of those outcomes, so we may not be as immune as we think we are FONBL – fear of not being liked.

That fear, like many if not most fears, can put a brake on more extreme behaviours which is necessary, but like any brake, if applied firmly, the vehicle does not go anywhere. The price we pay is lack of innovation and change, less experimentation and much less honesty.

Is it worth it?