Thursday, February 23, 2017

Anti-Social Media

I've written about my affinity for social media before, as well as some of its drawbacks. It's a common topic because of its omnipresence in society, but it's a relatively new and revolutionary phenomenon, so we don't really know its true effects yet.

For now, social media seems to be a mostly incredible thing. But for better or worse, it says so much about humans. Take Facebook. We all use it, yet we all complain about it, and we usually complain about it WHILE using it! Humans...what a species!

It says a lot about us in other more obvious ways, too. It's meant to share our personal experiences and thoughts with others through words and pictures, or to simply share memes and "likes." Fun! Yet when a controversial topic is part of the national conversation, we all dread opening up our social media apps. Do we even want to see what our friends and family members are saying? It can be so upsetting. I don't need to know that my good friend's cousin thinks that stupid fucking Wall is a great idea.

So what do we do? Stop using social media? Yeah right! You can always scroll past posts you don't like, but you still see them, and they still make some kind of impact on your feelings towards the poster. I can't unsee my cousin calling Trayvon Martin a "thug" who "deserved it."

What's the solution? Deleting or unfollowing all the family members and friends you disagree with? It's tempting, but as the great Thomas Jefferson once said:

You may have seen this quote/meme or some variation of it floating around, in particular during and after The Worst Election Ever You Guys, Like Seriously, The Worst.

Like most "thoughtful" memes or sketchily attributed historical quotes, it sounds great on the surface. And Tommy Jeff was a great president, one of my faves, so that certainly carries some weight. His words here express the seemingly noble idea that political affiliations or personal beliefs should not negatively impact friendships. That's an honorable desire, albeit impractical and illogical.

Every now and then, sparked by a controversial event, waves of people on social media say they will delete friends/followers for supporting [insert person/thing you hate most]. Those most likely to be unfriended will then call these people childish or immature: "Oh you can't even debate your beliefs so you just delete people? Grow up!"

Inevitably, a few "can't we all just get along!" type friends will see the commotion and "help" the situation by sharing a quote like the one above. "We shouldn't let political disagreements come between us!" they'll say, offering a virtual cookie to everyone if we all just go back to talking about how the series finale of How I Met Your Mother really didn't meet expectations.

I have a lot of problems with this line of reasoning, which I'll explain, but first off, I need to point out the glaring hypocrisy of this particular quote. It was indeed said by Thomas Jefferson (which at least makes it more accurate than most celebrity quotes online) but Jefferson also said "all men are created equal" while raping slaves, so we have to take everything he said with a grain of salt that a slave probably sprinkled on his meal.

And to be more specifically hypocritical, Tommy Jeff didn't talk to one of his best friends and closest confidantes, US President #2 John Adams, for over 20 years because of...wait for it...political disagreements! As they helped lay the groundwork for the country's government, they had vastly different views on how to best shape it. These powdered wigged, skinny pants wearing Political Geniuses did the equivalent of unfriending your best friend on Facebook over election results. They even trolled each other by sharing fake news stories about the other and calling each other names.

The Founding Fathers were just like us! That's...kinda scary, actually.

But it's important to understand. Even Thomas Jefferson wasn't "above" letting politics influence his personal relationships. It would be odd if he was, right? If he (and others like him) didn't take politics deadly serious, where would we be as a country?

Nobody is "above" politics. People may not be "into" politics, and I get that. Politics is maddening. But "politics" isn't just presidential elections. It's things like how much you pay in taxes, what is being taught in your kid's schools, who will fill the potholes in your roads, what type of scientific research gets funded, whether or not you can afford quality healthcare. You know, everything that matters in real life.

It makes perfect sense to me to judge people based on their politics. Politics represent our values. What should people be judged on? Looks? Smell? Taste in music? I'm all for judging based on those things (kidding...mostly) but judging someone based on their values and ethics actually seems like the more mature thing to do. It's certainly much less childish than blindly accepting everyone and claiming all opinions matter. No, some opinions are really ill-informed or hateful or both, and they don't deserve equal treatment.

And before you say we shouldn't judge people at all, shouldn't we be somewhat discerning when it comes to our friends? We tell kids to pick their friends wisely, but as adults we have to be friends with everybody? I know for myself, as I get older, I don't want to give any of my love, time, energy or thought to people whose values I don't share. I can absolutely be friends with a conservative or a liberal or an anarchist, but I can't be friends with racists or sexists or bigots. People who promote pedophilia are not worthy of any of your time, and there's nothing wrong with admitting that.

As far as social media, I spend a lot of my online time using it and I want an enjoyable experience. I treat my Facebook and Twitter feeds like a dictator, and I highly recommend it. Annoying guy comments on every one of your posts? Just delete his comments. If you don't want to offend someone but you also don't want to see memes about how Muslims are here to kill your entire family, unfollow that person. And if it gets too bad, unfriend them. Why are you worried about offending someone with insanely offensive beliefs? I guarantee that your desire to give everyone a fair chance and accept everyone's opinion does not equate to the feeling of absolute relief when you get an obnoxious, hateful person out of your virtual life. I've given people a lot of chances because I really do have love for everyone, but I've learned that in many cases it's just not worth it. There's no reason to put up with bullshit on your own social media.

So unfriend that shithead now! Free speech doesn't apply to your Facebook or Twitter feed.

On the other hand, I do see value in befriending those with opposing beliefs, for many reasons.

As a whole, it's not good to completely inoculate yourself from those you disagree with. It is absolutely important to listen to opposing opinions and hear different perspectives. Get out of your bubble or echo chamber or whatnot. Engaging with other's viewpoints causes you to either challenge and question your own beliefs or confirm your own beliefs, and either way, you will be more informed.

Therefore, I make a concerted effort to take in information from all types of sources to get a more comprehensive view of the world. However, when it comes to my social media, I want a positive experience. You can call it a safe space or whatever, but I don't want to have to read some bullshit on a daily basis. Yes I can scroll past it but I don't even want to have to do that (I already explained this!). I want positivity or information or entertainment. I sometimes get the urge to argue with others, and I often still do that! Now, I strictly do it on my own terms.

Maybe I've been through too much. I thank Ferguson for cleaning up my Facebook feed. It told me a lot about certain people. At first, it hurt to know how many friends and family were straight up bigots, but ultimately, I want to have that information. I want to have friendships and relationships based on reality and shared values. Most of the friends and family that stayed with me through Ferguson and Baltimore posts are on a somewhat similar wavelength. I had my time arguing at length with family members and friends whose views I find repugnant. I understand the sick satisfaction in destroying someone's ridiculous argument or even just making fun of someone for their idiotic statements, but that shit ain't healthy over an extended period of time. I can't do it anymore. I now carefully pick and choose my battles, and it makes for a much better experience.

Social media gives us insight into people's thoughts and beliefs to an extent humanity has never really seen before. There's a common complaint that many people say things online they'd never say in public, but I think that can be a good thing. They may not publicly say the things they say online, but that doesn't mean they don't believe those things. They believe them, they just don't want to tell most people because of the reaction. The web gives them an easier, safer outlet for their views. It sucks when people you like or respect express bigotry or hate, but I'm glad when it's out in the open because now I don't have to give them my time or mental energy. I like knowing where people stand.

The fact that we are all typing on screens and not dealing with people's immediate reactions allows us to be more truthful. It also allows cowards to be more brave but that's fine. Tell us how you really feel so I can cut you off and never have to hear it again. That's a good thing. And while you are cutting out the assholes from your life, you can also connect with like-minded individuals. I've gained many friends/acquaintances from social media; oftentimes, when I'm arguing or just commenting online, other people will join in and we'll strike up a virtual friendship.

Sometimes all it takes is hitting "Like" on someone's comment. The whole concept of "likes" and "faves" is fascinating to me. I follow people just for retweeting my post on Twitter. I've become friends with people on Facebook simply based on a like. They appreciated my comment shitting on Mitch McConnell's turtle jowls? Let me be friends with this person!

I really enjoy the likes battles, too; they are a way to gauge who is "winning" a debate. Your comment got 8 likes? Well my response to your comment got 12 likes, I WIN SUCKER.  And if I see a random person arguing with some alt-right clown, I'll throw them a like any time, especially if the clown is getting a lot of likes. I can't let the clown win.

Nowadays, I try not to engage people unless I respect them. I'll ridicule some random friend of a friend if I'm feeling particularly saucy, but beyond that, I've found that there's literally no use arguing with most people online. Usually, you end up yelling into a bottomless void of stupidity, and it will only end with you being sucked in. Don't get lost in the void.

I Love You All...Class Dismissed.

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