I have been a social media slut for 8 years. I joined Facebook then a while later, Twitter. I innocently thought it would be a good way to chat to old friends, make new friends and keep an eye on happenings around the world.
Maybe this is the motivation of many of us that join the social media world? Maybe we have an idealistic view that it can be a place to share memories, chat with good folks and exchange thoughts and pictures?
Eight years on, I have fallen out and back in love with Twitter. I have fallen out of love permanently with Facebook but still maintain a presence. I share photos from my Instagram account. Nearly all are of landscapes/nature/home-baking. Nothing to incite a riot or complain about.
I watched the Graham Norton interview with Hilary Clinton yesterday. It really got me thinking about how such an online platform as Facebook can be used to peddle dangerous mistruths. How those mistruths are taken up and used to justify outright lies. How a country can use it as a means of interfering with the democratic process of another. It got me thinking. How many times have I read an article without checking the source? How keen am I to agree with one that confirms my suspicions/fears/prejudices?
I only stay on Facebook as a means of keeping in touch with family and old friends. I get their feeds and they get mine. Well I assume they do unless they don’t follow me! I have been very preachy, very opinionated and downright angry at times. These occasions may have been sparked by an article that has no basis in fact, heavily skewed to besmirch another. I am a hypocrite.
The USA has a president that tweets like a parrot with tourettes. He introduces legislation in 140 characters. he picks fights with other world leaders. He is incapable of being challenged to the validity of his ramblings. Any challenge is seen as ‘fake’ or ‘sad’. He has reduced the most powerful political office on earth to a freak show run by an idiot. The term statesmanlike should reflect the manner in which a world leader conducts his or herself. The ability to think before you speak. The realisation that your comments and responses carry a great responsibility.
His election campaign used social media to spread falsehoods about its opponents. It took the concept of attack ads to a new level. to recruit another state to do its dirty work and then repeat it was terrifying. His response to the allegations is to dismiss staff that challenge him, to just call it ‘fake news’. He threatens, bullies, shouts over opponents because he thinks thats what his people want to see. His opponent also used social media but didn’t employ outsiders to spread lies about the other candidates. Well at least I think they didn’t!
So when I read an article about how the British government handles an issue such as Brexit or universal credit, how can I be sure it is a factual analysis of the issue? Should I be reading all sides of the discussion then making up my mind? should I be forced to read the Daily Mail or Sun to get an opposing view of immigration, Brexit, the management of the economy? Where does this mistrust end? Can I trust the BBC/SKY/ITV/Channel 4 news to report the news in an unbiased way. Will I always go the network, newspaper that best reflects my own political views?!
The solution is in one way, simple. Just avoid social media altogether and stop watching the news. Blissful ignorance. If I don’t read or watch it, I can’t be influenced. That is the ostrich approach. The other alternative is to filter my twitter feed to those that avoid any political/news event. That however is an impossibility as everyone dips their toe into a news story.
The former BBC newscaster Martyn Lewis wrote an article in 1993 in which he suggested media outlets give equal time to positive news items. His argument was that ‘the bigger the tragedy, the more images of the disaster, the more prominence it acquires’. I have been compelled to tweet or post on Facebook when something terrible happens. It doesn’t make the disaster any less disastrous but just adds a comment on it. Is that comment really needed? Who cares what I think about it. It is the social media equivalent of standing around in a crowd watching a building burn down. It still burns down but at least you were there to offer an opinion about how they could have prevented the fire or two terrible it looks.
I was in the newly refurbished Piece Hall in Halifax a few weeks ago. A woman was pushing an elderly gentleman in a wheelchair across the new paved centre. She didn’t see a step. The man very slowly fell out of the wheelchair. The woman was understandably very upset. Three people immediately came to help and the situation was sorted. An older middle aged fourth man however, came over to just inform the woman that she would have gone round the step as there was a ramp. He offered no assistance, just wanted to tell her where she went wrong.
Maybe I am as guilty as that man. I don’t do anything to rectify the worlds wrongs, I just comment on them. I have been actively involved in conservation and am a member of political party. I do support charities and have petitioned my MP for changes in legislation.
I am however, still a hypocrite. Maybe the answer is to keep our opinions to ourselves. Read the papers, watch the news and process the information. Maybe I should be less Trump?