Social Media – Tools for Fools?

With the recent news about Cambridge Analytics gathering and misusing Facebook data, I’ve seen people tweeting #DeleteFacebook (including Elon Musk, who apparently deleted his entire personal and public presence, though I don’t think he used the hashtag) and a lot of outrage that so much data is being collected and used for various purposes, including political. But I can’t say that I was surprised or even phased by the news. I think I was more startled by how many people were startled! This post is just a little bit of musing – it’s not a “hot take” – just some thoughts that have been rolling around in my head.

Social media is such a strange behemoth. There are so many views on the purpose of various platforms ranging from adamant assertions that Facebook is just for family photos and puppy pics (yes, still) all the way to pure political use and so many ways of using it. I think my view on social media is a pragmatic one – you use the tools available to you how you need and/or want to use them. I use Facebook to connect with family and friends, share interesting articles, make new friends – and the best way to reach me at any time is Messenger: I can’t recall the last time I made a phone call for something social or even logistical. I used Instagram when I was running my businesses for fun and because some of my friends wouldn’t use Facebook & enjoyed the simplicity and happy feel of Instagram. I started using Twitter when I started helping with LogiCal-LA 2017 and quickly realized that I could connect with people and gain access to viewpoints and news that weren’t easily within reach on Facebook or my small southern California town where I am raising my kids. That’s essentially the limit of my social media exposure and I find that I use each platform in an entirely different way – they are tools. (WordPress is a new addition, for the purposes of this blog, and I was reluctant to add a new tool, but it seemed necessary. So far, so good!)

They are tools, and extraordinarily useful tools at that. I find that I am willing to take risks with my information in order to gain access to tools that I feel immeasurably improve my life and make my work possible. I do try to read the fine print and I have (largely) resisted the urge to sign up to take little quizzes on Facebook but I know I have glossed over things in order to be able to use resources that I can’t make on my own. But I know when I take that risk that I have to at least try to keep my wits about me – just because it’s in “print” somewhere doesn’t mean it’s real. So there’s a need to try keep your tools from using you. Stay skeptical my friends. Treat every day like it is April Fool’s Day. 😉

Of course, I would like social media businesses and app designers to have a care with the info they glean from me – to be responsible, moral and ethical. But I’m not going to demand perfection or assume that everyone who designs an app has purely altruistic motives, or even that they should. Everything we do in life involves risk – this is one I’m willing to take. When I see people call for Twitter to require use of real names to avoid bots and impersonation, I see an incalculable loss looming as I imagine people in restricted countries losing access to their lifeline to the rest of the world. Ex-Muslim apostates who have limited outlets, political dissidents, people who are constrained from being themselves in their in-person situations. People – young and old – in small villages but with an internet connection. “Lifeline” takes on its original, heavy meaning in those cases. Even atheists, such as myself, who may not know anyone else with whom it is safe to share their ideas and thoughts with can connect and find community online. I did and it kept me going.

The immense value of being able to be heard, or hear someone else, is stunning when you think about it. Just this past week I had the pleasure of seeing some of my blog entries being read in places such as Japan, Argentina, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, and even the tiny country of Vanuatu! This is a dream come true for the kid who wanted to be friends with all of the foreign exchange students growing up. How else can we bring people of the world together so easily?

Of course, bringing people of the world together also causes clashes in world view, politics, religion, opinions, taste – essentially every way in which people can differ. But I don’t think this is a bad thing overall. Difficult? Yes. And some of us are being dragged along kicking and screaming as we are forced to pop our little bubbles of safety and similarity.

Yes, it would be nice to get rid of risks that cause us unpleasant experiences online. Twitter could certainly be a happier place if no one could be anonymous. But as we see with Facebook, which in theory requires real names, people don’t seem all that inclined to limit vitriol and nastiness toward people they don’t know even when they aren’t anonymous. In my opinion, it’s not worth the loss to others to make my experience a little nicer. My suggestion is to find another tool if the one you are using doesn’t suit your purpose. (Yes, I know that won’t always work – sometimes you just have to go where the people are.) And, of course, I also try to regulate my own behavior so that it doesn’t make other people have awful experiences! (My two goals for social media: never get angry at someone online, and always assume the best possible interpretation of what someone has posted until they verify otherwise.)

I’m not deleting Facebook. Social media in all it’s incarnations is a tool – and a powerful tool for connection and change – and when we think of it that way, I think it makes sense to keep using the tools we have, while we work to make them even better. I don’t think it makes me a fool, but I suppose the jury is still out.

Update: Just a few hours after I posted this, I came across this related article: Musk and Zuckerberg are fighting over whether we rule technology—or it rules us


Notes:

I had to laugh at the stories of Facebook users fleeing for Instagram, not realizing the connection. Most of our life is infused with connections like this. We just aren’t aware that they are there. https://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/news/2018/03/22/bye-facebook-hello-instagram-users-make-beeline-facebook-owned-social-network/433361002/

Seeing Vanuatu on my list of countries in my WordPress stats was startling and reminded me of the stories I’d read about Cargo Cults. Cargo Cults on Vanuatu