I wanted to write a post to talk about our use of social media and the use of to spread bullshit ideas. It’s something that has grated on me for a long time, but the recent New Zealand atrocity reinforced in my mind that there is something wrong with how we use platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Terrorists aim to spread fear far and wide whilst clinging to a message, an agenda. This is also a concept that many media outlets use, but that is a post for another time. Going back 21 years or so terrorist groups such as the IRA would receive publicity from the tv and radio news when car bombs were found or exploded. This gave them a voice (all be it a restricted one) and kept The Troubles in the minds of all that saw the reports.
In the UK when organisations like the BBC or ITN displayed any story involving graphic images they would do so after the “watershed”, normally 9pm when children would be in bed. They’d also begin the story by telling you that it contained graphic images, so that you could switch over if you wanted, the key being they gave you a choice. Don’t get me wrong we still have a choice now, but I feel it is different.
Fast forward two decades we now have groups such as al-Qaeda and ISIS amongst many others using Twitter and other social media to display beheadings and to recruit followers. They now have many avenues in which to spread their message, often more effectively than mainstream media could if they were to display a terrorist attack.
When I talked about our choice earlier being different now I feel it is because of how we consume news today. Our first sight of a trending news story is often through social media as it is a quick and easy way to spread word. When a story appears on your Facebook timeline or Twitter feed for example it is much harder not to click through because it has normally been shared by someone you follow, most often a friend. Yes you have a choice whether you will click and read the story, but it is much harder now that you know a friend has seen it and is sharing it. There’s two things at play here in my mind, fear of missing out (FOMO) and curiosity. We want to know what others know and we can’t help but click on the worst of it.
That sharing culture has been the thing that has always bugged me and probably because I was part of it. Whether it was people sharing too much of their daily routine when Facebook first began, or friends posting food photos on Instagram every five seconds (ok I did that). In recent years I’ve seen people videoing car accidents or taking photos of someone collapsed on the ground. I can’t say that they then went and shared these on social media, but it’s not that much of a leap to connect the two. Somewhere along the line though we have begun creating a life online that is not real by sharing any different thing that occurs in our day. Life is mainly hum drum routine, sorry but that’s normal. It’s the interspersion of ups and downs that make it a vibrant fucking challenge. Life is not exciting all the time and it doesn’t need to be, we don’t need to share every small thing that happens around us to feel validated and fulfilled and perhaps if we feel we do then something much deeper is wrong in our lives.
What pains me deeply about New Zealand is that there were people that shared footage of innocent people being murdered. How is that normal and acceptable? How did we get to a point where giving a voice to a terrorist is ok? Talking about the victims and who they were is what we should be sharing and then focusing on how to prevent it from happening again. Admittedly the latter is easier said than done, but watch this space as New Zealand sorts that out.
Look I don’t have a solution to the World’s problems, some days I struggle just to get my shirt on the right way round. But when it comes to social media, in fact when it comes to any time we are going to speak out or share then these five points below could be a good idea:
Take a breath.
Think of your closest friend or family member that you love more than anything in that video, photo or meme you are about to share.
Act with some dignity. (Act can mean put the phone down)
Don’t be a dick.
What we could all do with sharing is some well researched articles about different people, cultures, history and religions, so that we can understand each other more and not fall into the easy stride of stereotyping and scapegoating. We all know where those two lead and we don’t want a repeat of 80 years ago thank you.
So next time you go to share something or click on a story just take a moment, you still have a choice. Then go and watch a dog video instead.