My Social Media Dilemma

Spider Web

Against the well-meant advice of some friends and family members, I have been a staunch defender of using social media, but using it wisely. I’m an early adaptor, I started using a computer in 1988, and I ventured onto the World Wide Web somewhere in the mid ‘90s. So it’s been a long learning curve, and I learn as I go. I follow all the recommendations to keep information on my social media accounts protected against misuse and refrain from posting a lot of personal stuff. I’m circumspect about whom I become ‘friends’ with, and I pay careful attention to which of my posts are private and which are public. I never click on advertisement links, but look them up in another browser tab if I’m interested. My browsing behavior is heavily protected.

I’ve always figured that, used wisely and with discretion, social media has more advantages than disadvantages. But a few months ago I grew very exasperated by the umpteenth disaster story of Zuckerberg’s incapability to admit he’s making a mess of things and not being upfront about it. That felt like almost the last straw. And now we have yet another pile of disclosures. This time it seems that even private conversations have been disclosed to third parties (Netflix, Spotify, etc.) for mutual gain. And yes, the practice has been discontinued in the meantime, but only because the mutual exchange was not profitable, not because these platforms were so concerned about adhering to privacy restraints.

I mean, seriously? I happen to use both Netflix and Spotify. So those ‘You also may enjoy …’ tips are (were) partly based on my online conversations with Facebook friends? Ludicrous!

This quote is from September (The Atlantic), but says it all:

Facebook and its kindred companies have not grown like trees, branching higher and wider to deliver the shade of their services, but like tubers: in every direction, sending roots and shoots wherever they might find soil and moisture to prosper. If it were a plant, Facebook would be an invasive species, like ground ivy or bamboo, lashing itself to any surface and suffocating out other life. Every moment of every day introduces a new expanse of its influence, and thereby a new source of exploitation. None of this is likely to slow down or stop.

And so there will be more bad news, and ever more bad news, over and over again. So much of it that eventually the least bad of the bad news will fall out of circulation, ceasing to raise enough hackles to generate outrage, or even attention. Today is just one more along that passage. Another day on Facebook’s blue Earth, a little worse than the one before.”

That passage: ‘so there will be more bad news, and ever more bad news, over and over again…’ Isn’t it high time to get out?

However, using these social media platforms has distinct advantages for me, which is leaving me with my hands in my hair now. In the first place, I do appreciate the exposure for my photography and writing via Facebook and Instagram. (Though I have become wary of posting important photos, preferring to keep them under wraps for more important things.) I’m an active member of my Facebook high school alumni class group and a photo processing workgroup. Good friendships and discussions emerge from both these, and I consider them enriching. Because of the group character, they cannot effectively be replaced by email contact. My family is spread out across the world and this is a great way to stay connected to the lives of siblings, cousins, nieces, and nephews. And I do appreciate the occasional platform to vent my views.

I know: back when we were growing up we had to rely on letters and personal visits to stay in touch with people. But I am not nostalgic for those times. The world has grown much larger in the meantime, and I appreciate the possibility to be able to expand both my view of and my means to communicate with this larger world. But the Internet, which was once touted as being the only successful form of anarchy we know, is in the hands of power-hungry moguls and it’s getting to feel like I’m a helpless toy in their hands, in spite of all my precautions. Helpless is about the last thing in the world I want to feel.

8 Comments:

  1. A truly thoughtful post, Madi. Zucker MUST be held accountable somehow. The damage he has done to western norms of democracy, human rights, even civilization is hard to put into words. Some means to regulate the fast advances in IT technology must be found, or else of slowing down this mad rush for profit, at the expense of our personhood.

    • The “mad rush for profit” cannot be laid at the feet of Zucker alone. As you are no doubt aware, this battle is just getting faster, but it is the same battle as in, for instance, the Nineteenth Century. Democracy and human rights are threatened even in places where technology is a relatively minor player. And in the tech picture, Twitter is possibly the worst offender (consider where the trumpery president spends his time).

      • You definitely have a point there, Sandra (two, actually). I refer to Facebook, as it’s the platform where most of my activity takes place. But It is equally true of all social media platforms, including Twitter.
        And yes, as the world becomes larger, so does communication become faster-paced. The ‘mad rush for profit’ is not something new. But, combined with the sheer scale and pace of things, it’s this aspect of human nature that is destroying our planet at horrifying speed.

  2. I use Facebook entirely as a publishing tool. Not so much for my “friends”, but in various groups, I put links to articles from real news sources such as the NY Times, Atlantic, and Washington Post. I also try to respond to comments and other posts with real information. And of course I get some interesting information from posts.

    I was very much aware of the Russian trolls during the 2016 election period. There was not much we could do about them besides shaming them.

    To my mind, the personal stuff is nobody’s business, especially on line. When I want to buy something, I search in a search engine. As an early participant in AI, I think the current preoccupation with selling “stuff” is an abuse of software — and trust.

  3. A very thoughtful commentary. I place blame on social media for a lot of problems we currently have globally and locally. While it has its benefits – some of which you have highlighted – I’m currently under the thinking that the hazards outweigh the benefits.

  4. Thanks, Madeleine. This line of thought is very much on my mind, too, and you know very well that I am a frequent FB user. Like you, I don’t use Twitter, Instagram or anything else. I don’t know where I’d get the time! And like you, yesterday’s news that FB had left a portal open to large corporations to view and even delete our posts, and that they claimed that didn’t violate their privacy rules. . . . That’s certainly approaching the last straw for me.

    But my hands are in my hair, too. I have re-established contact with many folks (like you) whom I would never have found otherwise. I suppose I could get your posts via email, but truly for me, it’s often the short, incidental comments from unexpected sources—little gestures of compassion and support that arrive through FB—that mean the most to me. I don’t know how I’d replace that.

    Maybe the opportunity is there for something to replace FB with a more ethical business model. But look how long it has taken for the shady practices of MZ and Co. to come out. I’d be wise to be skeptical of the new kid on the block, too.

    I suspect this is another element of the Brave New World we accelerate further into with each passing day. It’s very difficult to get off the train. Like Sandra, I will continue to be responsible and circumspect in the articles I cite and share. I will resist click bait as best I can. But I don’t want to say goodbye to the groups and many individuals who cross my path on FB.

    Great piece, and the thread evolving from it is another sign of the good that comes of the online world we live in.

    Thanks,

    • I love your “Brave New World we accelerate further into…” James. Yes, it’s extremely difficult to get off the train. I try to infuse Facebook with any truth, wisdom, or beauty I can provide. As an antidote to the poison maybe?

  5. As usual, a thoughtful & thought-provoking blog. Thank you. I worry too about my private information being taken & used without my permission. I use FB to connect with people I probably would loose touch with otherwise. I do not use Twitter or Instagram but I do use Amazon. How did Amazon know I liked Sabine’s book “Presenting the Turkey…”? Did I mention it in a message or email? I only remember posting about it on the HI chat. It seems to me it’s too easy for high tech to “grab” more & more information about each of us, is more than Facebook, it is credit card companies, insurance, registry of motor vehicles, etc. Is there a way to stop it or even control it? I don’t think so. All I know is I have to be vigilant that my identity hasn’t been stolen & credit cards & bank accounts are not being used by others. Is there anything else we can do?

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