I have some counterintuitive news: Social media is not the end of civilization as we know it. The problem is closer to home.
It’s true that Facebook (which I loathe) and Twitter (which I warily embrace) as companies have done contemptible things. They don’t give. They take. The stated idea is that We the People will connect, converse and contend over the issues and ideas of the day, whether that’s tax policy or cat videos. In reality, every click generates another datum in your profile to be sliced, diced and sold.
Let’s be clear: “Profit” is not a dirty word, and capitalism is the goose that laid the golden egg – but we also have more than a few bad geese. The social media giants act without regard for good behavior or common decency, and when they get busted they don’t so much repent as rewrite the rules, again, in their favor. They claim to be standing for a more open, transparent world, but don’t ask that of them.
But Twitter doesn’t cause controversies. The Twitterverse – that is, people – does that. If people overreact, if they call others names or if they’re just having a dark, angry day and can’t help but share it with the entire world, that’s on them. People still own their own actions.
I guess the semi-anonymity has something to do with it, or the idea that you’ll likely never have to look into the eyes of the person you just called a hippie or a Neanderthal. Still, here’s an old-fashioned thought: Would you want your grandmother to read this?
What if there was a widely known set of rules, rooted in common sense and common courtesy? What if there were people assigned to be out there stopping people who didn’t play by the rules?
Wait. We have that. It’s called driving, and look at how that’s working out. There aren’t enough cops to stop or even slow the determined jerk drivers who speed, tailgate, honk, hop lanes, text and drive, phone and drive, tweet and drive, bark and drive, run red lights, turn left on red and just generally lack a clue.
And that’s an area in which we claim that there are rules. How can we expect the Wild West of social media to be the enlightened and thoughtful arena that we were once promised the internet, etc. would bring us. That’s nothing but a bill of goods.
The problem isn’t the tool, whether it’s a Lexus or an iPhone. It’s the user who thinks only of himself.
– Jeff Fox is The Examiner’s editor. Reach him at 816-350-6365 or firstname.lastname@example.org. He tries to tweet helpfully, thoughtfully and responsibly at @FoxEJC.