Several of my friends have managed to stay away from social media. No Facebook, no Twitter, no TikTok, no Instagram. They didn’t, and still don’t know what the fascination is with these platforms and why everyone spends so much time on them.
Throughout the years I have extolled the benefits of social media. How it helps keep up with friends, companies and their products, political points-of-view, world events. It is a way to reconnect with old friends and get to know people who, back in the day, wouldn’t have hung out together for whatever reasons.
Then we had the Trump campaign years. He, and then his lackeys, began to use social media in both brilliant, and debilitating, ways. His acumen and deft skill of manipulating all media, sucking them all in with his outlandish and mean-spirited commentary was like fish being hooked with a wriggly worm. Media, and social media, fell for him hook, line, and sinker.
It feels, and it may have been earlier than his campaign years, when what is now being called misinformation or disinformation, but I’ll call it what it is, lies, started in earnest. Not only did domestic players recognize they could easily manipulate the ill-informed, poorly educated people (Trump even said he loved the poorly educated), but also highly educated people. They could radicalize young people, mainly boys, in the same manner a gang pulls other members into the gang. This worked because social media is not regulated in the same manner as other media outlets, even though social media is now one of the tops ways, if not the top way, people get their news.
Social media though, is many more times dangerous, and effective, than other forms of media. When we all sign into social media services, we agree, in all that fine print, to allow them to collect data about us. Every click, every pause, every e-mail, and so on, can be mined for data about us and our habits (watch Netflix’s The Social Dilemma, if you dare, to see how it is done).
Political campaigns, over the past few years, have invested heavily in social media presences. Several spent more on social media than on traditional media sources. Foreign adversaries noticed this happening as well, which brought them into our political fray. Using sophisticated, and not-so-sophisticated, means and bots, these foreign players started posting comments, memes, and lies into the system using their own data mining. Our enemies were able to influence, some argue significantly influenced, voters to help bring us the Trump era because it would be of benefit to them. Whether we choose to believe it or not, this foreign influence occurred and continues to occur.
With Elon Musk, who has supported non-factual stories along with other lies, on his social media, purchasing Twitter, I personally know that I will not be able to support a Twitter as his private platform. As I contemplate leaving Twitter, I’m adding Facebook and a few other platforms I’m on into the reflection. Is it time to stop being a part of companies that are not good for the commons, who are hastening the fall of Pax Americana and our democracy? Each day says yes more and more loudly, even as I know I will potentially lose the connections I’ve made over the years.
Perhaps in the next few months one of two things will happen, the Musk Twitter purchase deal will be blocked by regulators (highly unlikely). Or, another platform will arise that both cares about its members and also the commons.