I am a Tweeter, Facebook friend, An Instagrammer, A Tumblrer. I began my affair with these mediums in about 2011. Probably later than some of you I know. They were interesting, informative, useful, Allowed me to acquaint and reacquaint myself with faces old and new.
For nearly a year, I enjoyed the light hearted, sometimes affectionate nature of Facebook and Twitter. I didn’t come to Instagram and Tumblr till later. I made online connections with some great folks, many of whom I still have much respect and admiration for. Facebook connected me with old schoolmates and family.
Then an event happened in 2012. The Bolton footballer Fabrice Muamba collapsed on the field at White Hart Lane having had a heart attack. Thankfully he was saved and managed to recover. The news of this event led for one person to tweet a vile, hate filled comment about the event. I remember the day as I was at swimming gala in Sheffield. The student from Swansea University was out with mates at a pub and commented saying “LOL, F*** Muamba. He’s dead”. This comment landed the student in court and sentenced to 56 days in prison.
The appalling nature of this event, not only for the footballer and his family but also the river of hatred that sped out from that comment changed things for me. I had always seen the concept of this social media in a positive light but now the darkness had descended. I had a follower from the USA who defended the hate comments claiming that people should be allowed to say anything with no consequences. There seemed to be no arbiter of decency, respect and honesty. I blocked her and cleared out those who touched her stance.
I found myself getting drawn into discussions over politics on both Facebook and Twitter. Sometimes they descended into childish, petty arguments. I would often walk away. I have left Facebook for a brief period but there’s a problem with that. Being a Facebook user enables you to access associated apps either owned or controlled by Facebook. By deleting your account, you cannot easily access them. Having a smartphone that works efficiently, often relies upon the presence of a number of apps working simultaneously. I could not use Messenger, made access to Instagram slightly more complicated.
There have been several elections and a referendum in the UK since 2012. I have nailed my colours to the mast and have promoted the cause of my party. This has at times, caused me much discomfort and led me to question why would I remain friends with people I ideologically oppose. I get drawn in too easily. I share my opinions when I feel like it and don’t consider that others should disagree. I especially don’t think about whether this folk actually want to know my opinions. The US presidential election changed many aspects of the use of social media. It now appears clear that certain right wing organisations and their friends in Moscow were accessing accounts in an attempt to alter the outcome of the election.
It may also be true in the UK.
The Republican candidate took to Twitter with enthusiasm. He threw claims, lies and hate around, encouraging millions of disaffected American voters to sit up and shout at the opposition. They followed, retweeted and liked his diatribes with vigour. The TV, newspapers and online news companies, made news out of his wild and unpredictable outpourings. The most bizarre twist in the tale of the US election was that the Republican candidate, Donald Trump, was actually elected. His outpourings have if anything, become more wild and unhinged. He has a massive following and takes to having arguments with foreign heads of state as well as anyone else that dares to stand up to him. Any contradictory comment or claims about his less than presidential behaviour is described as Fake News.
Social media creates stories now. Politicians, celebrities post on social media and it is immediately picked up by news organisations. Fury is fuelled by indignation and extremism one all political sides. A lie or distortion of the truth is reported as news rather than actually checking the validity of the claim. Organisations use social media to discredit people in order that the opposing view is seen to have more credibility. It is no surprise that the present Labour leader is under fire just a month before local government elections.
It is now the case that hate groups can infiltrate Facebook groups and post extremist material. Facebook seems to adhere to the views of my former Twitter follower by allowing all viewpoints however racist, violent or hate fuelled. They rarely go after such extremism and claim ignorance of their existence. yet they can gather information about individuals and push ads towards them. Twitter acts slowly too almost encouraging the force of the Twittersphere to police itself. A recent crudely edited photograph was posted by Lord Sugar depicting Jeremy Corbyn sat in a car dressed in military uniform next to Hitler. He has subsequently removed this under pressure from the Twitter community and politicians. Twitter stays silent whilst hate is allowed to bounce around the world.
Whatever happened to the idea of building communities and sharing that was maybe in the mind of the originators of these platforms. If you are to believe the storyline of the movie The Social Network however, Mark Zuckerberg started Facebook as a way of identifying available women on his university campus. This does not suggest that the premise of the company is wholly positive in its outlook.
I now actually enjoy posts that I used to think as banal. People eating out, having family fun, photos of beautiful places and of cats behaving bizarrely. They are at least a more positive approach to sharing than the promotion of hate and anger.
I am considering leaving both Facebook and Twitter. I still enjoy Tumblr and Instagram. They are superficial but appealing in many ways. I think of Pinterest in a different light and do enjoy how the algorithms used, decide what I may be interested in. They can get very weird at times!
I would stay on Twitter if it became less a platform for shouting and more one of sharing. I would find Facebook more appealing if it didn’t allow itself to be hijacked by far right extremists and foreign governments, hellbent on affecting the outcome of elections. I would trust them more if they both cracked down on the hate and encouraged the positive.
Mark Twain said once ‘A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes’. Now they travel faster than the blink of an eye and the shoes wouldn’t even be off the shoe rack .
I know it would be an impossibility to reign back the progress of technology and how it is used but I just fear that we become slaves to the algorithm, puppets of the post and lapdogs of the likes. The social media giants know where they’ve got us but who polices where they take us in the future?