The Trouble with Social Media is…

Well, that’s it, then. I’ve made my decision. Save for this blog, I’ve decided not to have a social media presence. Not as an author, nor as an individual. I’m done.

Why, you ask? (No, go ahead. Ask. You’re going to be reading my answer anyway, so you might as well ask the question. Call it audience participation.)

Well, I’m glad you asked. It’s because there are too many problems which are made worse by social media, that’s why.

No, it’s not about the interactions I’ve had with my fans. It’s not about the interactions I’ve had with fellow writers, either. You see, that’s the part of social media I loved. It brings me joy to hear how my work has affected others–whether that effect has been positive or negative. It never fails to flatter me when someone seeks my opinion on various matters: I’m a dude who writes, nothing more and nothing less. When it comes to fans, I belong in the audience with you–all creators were inspired by others, and someone had inspired them, as well. There doesn’t even need to be a stage since the show is about every single one of us. Social media can sometimes prove that, and I will miss it for those moments.

However, social media also proves that we’re not truly in the Information Age. It does the opposite. For me, it showed that there must be quite a market for bullshit, because there sure seems to be a lot of people selling it. While those who honor truth are certainly welcome to spend their lives trying to debunk what they see on social media, there’s two things I feel they miss. The first is that, despite their ceaseless efforts, the bullshit just keeps on a’coming–that bull has got himself one hell of a bad case of the shoots. The second thing is that the bullshitters have the same loudspeaker as the fact-checkers do. Everyone’s screaming, and everyone’s voice is exactly the same volume. The authority belongs to he or she for whom it is granted, and for that the playing field is even. Sadly, facts aren’t subjective. Therein lies the rub.

Critical thinking skills have clearly become an endangered species. Far too many people seem to factor what is true by using the same formula:

I want this to be true = it’s true.

For every bullshitter who wails about Jewish space lasers, or about how drinking urine is a cure for COVID-19 (no, I’m not making either of these things up), there’s a legion of fans who follow along and absorb every single word. There truly isn’t a claim so outrageous that nobody will believe it. I recall hearing a representative of The Onion say that satire has become almost impossible to write, and I believe it. Folks, we’re there. We have arrived at that point. Keep this in mind as you read on.

There’s a lot of self-proclaimed experts out there. Four years ago, they were political experts. Then they were immigration experts. Then the pandemic hit, and they became crack-shot virologists. Now that Russia and Ukraine are beating each other around, they’re foreign policy experts–and since NATO is involved, they’ve become the go-to source of military strategic advice, as well. Let’s not forget their priceless (yet available for only the cost of your free time) advice on how to survive a nuclear war, which they guarantee we’re all heading toward. (If our leaders were to listen to their military advice, I suppose nuclear war would indeed be virtually guaranteed, but I digress.)

While very few of these “experts” have the brains of your average fruit stand watermelon, what they do have are effective platforms. Platforms which attract audiences of adoring fans who feast on every word. Those same adoring fans quickly pass on what they’ve learned, using the same platform as their newfound heroes did, becoming someone else’s newfound hero. Or at the very least, becoming someone’s new best friend. It’s easy to like someone who agrees with you.

Now, sure. I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that loudmouthed know-it-alls and cult fellowships have been part of human history for as long as we’ve been jotting this crap down. And you’re right. Of course you’re right. Everyone’s got a story about Uncle Roy after he’s had one too many drinks during Thanksgiving dinner. The thing is, only in very recent years has Uncle Roy been able to spread his particular brand of expertise far beyond the holiday dinner table. Uncle Roy’s gone global, and there he doesn’t require alcohol to embolden him to speak.

The January 6th insurrection was made possible by guys like Uncle Roy. I doubt it would have happened at all without the Uncle Roys on social media organizing such a thing.

We still would have had a global pandemic. I doubt we’d have had as many preventable deaths without all the Uncle Roys on social media who sowed distrust in public health officials, as well as said health officials’ safety recommendations. And yes, yes, yes, yes, I’m including elected officials in the Uncle Roy camp. (As an aside, at the time of this writing, we are still in a pandemic. That’s what happens when a virus spreads, you see: it mutates. Immunities from past infections and past vaccines start to matter less and less as these mutations continue. Uncle Roy and all of his followers will see that as proof that they were right, not as proof that their advice keeps the pandemic alive while it keeps getting people killed.)

The problem isn’t Uncle Roy as much as it is the size of the dinner table, and the amount of people seated around that table who are willing to listen to him.

Sure, social media would seem to be an ideal platform for debating and debunking such things, but remember what I said about critical thinking skills? A vast number of people, in their quest to matter and to be heard, have allowed their identities to be tied to ideas: an attack on an idea or belief is akin to an attack on the person his- or herself. Other members who share those beliefs feel attacked as well, so they come running to aid their challenged comrade. It’s very tribal.

Scarce on social media are the debates which dig into a given topic in order to search for truth. Instead, the entire goal is to “own” one’s opposers. People’s Exhibit A is how rarely you see these three words: I don’t know. “I don’t know” is seen as a sign of weakness, not as a sign of strength. One who is interested in the truth would admit to not knowing–or Zeus forbid, admit to being wrong. One who is protecting one’s identity simply can’t. He or she has to double down, deflect, or cut straight into an attempt to belittle his or her opponent. No, dear reader, it’s not about finding truth. You’re bringing intellect to an ego fight. Best of luck to you.

Thus the question becomes, if bullshit is being peddled in every store (the store being whatever social media platform one happens to visit), and questioning claims is a call to war, does social media contribute positively toward the so-called Information Age? I don’t think so. I see little evidence of that, nor do I see where it can improve. Being a person who is interested in growth, I can’t justify spending further time in such an environment. That’s my first reason for leaving.

There’s another aspect about social media which concerns me. If you’re of a certain age, you’ll remember what it was like to see something upsetting or to hear something you disagreed with. You maybe told a friend about it. You called someone to talk to about it. But after that, my friend, you dusted yourself off, fixed what you could, and moved on with your life. You didn’t dwell on it. You didn’t seek out something new to feel outraged about–and you almost certainly weren’t directed toward such things on an hourly basis by others (at least, I sincerely hope not).

Social media’s changed all of that. Pick any topic which offends you, and you’ll find a group of folks who also share your hatred. Followers are gained, and soon enough you find yourself in an echo chamber which is filled by people who constantly reinforce your venom. Don’t believe me? Do me a favor. I want you to open your Twitter or Facebook account and go through all of the stuff you’ve either liked, posted, or posts upon which you’ve commented. How many of those things are cute photos, jokes, or amusing stories? Okay, now how many of those things are attacks of some kind against another, complaints, or grievances? I’m willing to bet that I know how that scale leans for a lot of you. Hell, mine was leaning the same way, too. It’s not healthy. Thankfully, it’s fixable. Your hands are on the wheel, so steer toward where you want to go. For me that meant choosing an entirely different path. For you… well, it’s up to you, not to some writer dude on the internet.

I’ve mentioned my distaste for cancel culture before, and that culture thrives on social media. Take movie stars, for example. Some actor says something which raises a few hackles (even if it has to be taken out of context in order to do so), and within minutes a slew of posts which repeat what was said are spray-painted over every feed. Millions of people who otherwise would have never known about it, now do. Everyone’s up in arms. The outrage is at a proper boil. For many, the appropriate response is to ban every movie in which the offending actor has ever starred. To lurk on the actor’s feed, and therefore be present in order to heckle him/her anytime there’s a new post. To jump up the ass of anyone who speaks favorably about any piece of work to which the offender is in any way attached.

To own that actor. To destroy and erase.

To cancel.

Fine… but where is the line drawn? I want you to think of your favorite movie. One that you’ve watched countless times over, and one you will likely watch countless times more. One you know all the lines to. While the main performers might pass your purity test (for right now, at least), you might have noticed that the ending credits have a lot of names in tiny print that scroll by. In your average Hollywood production, there are hundreds of people involved. Think every one of them passes the sniff test? Really?

Spoiler alert: they don’t. Guess you shouldn’t post about planning to watch it again this weekend. One of your friends might see your post and spray foam your way. You won’t belong to the tribe anymore, and that’s a social media death sentence.

How many businesses are on your boycott list now? Still keeping track of them? Keeps changing every time you log on, doesn’t it? Makes life tough when you have to break out a list every time you’re bored or hungry. You certainly don’t want to post about what you decided to do. Gotta be true to your tribe.

And lest you be about to place blame on one side of the political isle or the other, both sides do it. Yes, they do. It’s not a liberal or conservative thing. One side’s Chick-fil A is another side’s Freedom Fries. Whatever the tribe demands, whenever the tribe demands it. You know where the tribe meets and what it depends upon in order to grow and thrive?

You guessed it: social media.

The same place you’ll run into coworkers, friends, and family members you’ve always gotten along with before, but now feel the need to disassociate from. The same place where people tell the world their lives’ stories, yet voice concern about being spied upon by their televisions. The place where you’ll learn that Barry Manilow worked for the secret service when Obama was president and gave all the mosquitos liberal bum cancer so that everyone they bit would hate Trump. (Okay, that last one I made up. But if I felt the need to place a disclaimer here, that should tell you something. Might even make you think of The Onion.)

I do have some fond memories of my time on social media. I’ve met and interacted with many interesting people and have been touched by some of the experiences they’ve shared. I’ve collected a few friends that way, including the woman who became my spouse. That said, I feel that social media has grown too powerful and can do too much harm. I cannot in good conscience continue to participate.

As always, I’m here. I can still be contacted at my website, and I do (usually) still respond. Work continues on my next project, which should be in hot little hands everywhere before long–especially now that I’m not burning away hours of my life on social media. I’m still around, even if I’m not all around.

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