What Social Media Has Taught Us

What Social Media Has Taught Us

David W. Hegg

Normally I advise people to stay away from articles listing 7 essentials for this, 5 hacks to improve that, or 10 ways to make your life better. I often find these list driven essays to be unusually shallow, usually predictable, and seldom useful. But sometimes presenting a list of some kind can allow me to get a column written when nothing else comes to mind, so here goes.

Most of us have some relationship with social media, be it Facebook, Instagram, twitter, or some other electronic, online source of social information. Personally, I self-identify as a social media critic. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

So, here’s what I’ve determined to be 5 things we should have learned by now as we peruse social media.

1. Someone with a camera is always near you, ready to capture your activity for all to see.

You would think this would be on the top of common sense lists today. Face it, unless you are all alone in a closet, in total darkness, there is no such thing as personal privacy anymore. And, when you’re out in the public eye, remember that eye sees everything, and it is probably being recorded by that creepy guy over by the fence. What’s more, apparently if you have an Amazon Echo, even some of your in-home conversations are being stored on an Amazon server somewhere ten stories underground in Utah.

2. If it is on social media, it really happened.

Okay, this isn’t true, but take my word for it, everyone but you and me believe it to be so. Remember, the cerebral skill known as discernment fell victim to our society’s anti-intellectualism years ago, and the rise of fake news proves it. It used to be dogmatic pronouncements were immediately followed by references to appropriate research. Today all that’s needed is “I saw it on Facebook.” Scams are up, error masquerades as truth, and all we care about is finding something to infuse a little shocking excitement into our otherwise dreary lives. I know because I read an article about it on Facebook.

3. Context doesn’t matter if the content is shocking.

It used to be we had to know the backstory to make sense of the event, but no longer. Just shoot video of someone getting dragged off a plane, post it, and whamo … United Airlines stock plummets to the tune of billions of dollars. Shoot a video of a political candidate saying something outrageous when taken out of context, post it, and watch her poll numbers take a terminal dive. It is gravely apparent social media has no standards, no ethical guardrails, and certainly no collective conscience. The only goal is to eclipse yesterday’s shock talk with today’s contributions.

 4. Dogmatic conclusions are no longer the result of having all the necessary facts.

Apparently, our new national exercise is jumping to conclusions. Only now we don’t even try to jump very high, if we jump at all. More likely we just stride to conclusions, easily and quickly, especially if they produce a direct hit on someone’s integrity, demolish a political enemy, or sock it to big business. With the speed of social media, we, the common folk, can orchestrate the downfall of people, places, and stock prices without consequence. Who knew ruining lives could be so fun?

 5. Today’s outrage will last only until tomorrow’s shocking events hit the screen.

Never has the statement “what have you done for me lately” been more true than in the world of social media. Every time we open our favorite social media outlet’s screen we do so driven by a thirst for something new, something fresh, something outrageous. And when we find it, we hit it. We like it and repost it. And ultimately we get caught up in the glorious chain reaction that is social media’s most addicting drug. Like it or not, we’ve become social gossip junkies, driven on by memories of the rush of outrage, shock, and incredulity.

Sadly, it always wears off, even though we try to keep it going. Just try bringing up the United thing now. Your friends will remind you it was so last week, and wonder if your phone died.

But the good news is there will always be a new video, a new political gaff, or some other posting that will send your outrage meter soaring. Don’t worry about tomorrow. Each day has enough trouble of its own to make sure the fires of social media burn hot enough to continue cauterizing our nation’s common sense and discernment.