(Double entendre warning…)
Over the last 4+ days, I have been reading a LOT. A few of the articles I read kind of hung together in my head. The headlines below are linked to the articles if you would like to read them. I have added the money quote under each headline.
YouTube wants you watching videos, as many as possible, for as long as possible. It’s the rare conspiracy on which conference-goers and I are in complete agreement. In order to maximize views, the Google-owned video giant recommends videos based on those you already watched. Videos with attention-grabbing titles and hot-button keywords often turn up high in the recommendation algorithm. Start watching videos for less extreme conspiracy theories like 9/11 trutherism or moon landing hoaxes, and YouTube will eventually recommend you a Flat Earth video.
“Nothing on this page is real,” read one of the 14 disclaimers on Blair’s site, and yet in the America of 2018 his stories had become real, reinforcing people’s biases, spreading onto Macedonian and Russian fake news sites, amassing an audience of as many 6 million visitors each month who thought his posts were factual. What Blair had first conceived of as an elaborate joke was beginning to reveal something darker. “No matter how racist, how bigoted, how offensive, how obviously fake we get, people keep coming back,” Blair once wrote, on his own personal Facebook page. “Where is the edge? Is there ever a point where people realize they’re being fed garbage and decide to return to reality?”
And that fact is the thing I can’t quite get past. That a decision I made for a list I put on the internet has impacted a family business and forever altered its future. That I have changed family dynamics and relationships. And it could very easily happen again… Clearly, I don’t have an answer. I understand there are larger forces involving tourism and technology and society writ large at play here, and I’m not enough of a hypocrite to turn this into a morality play about the internet and the consequences of our actions, but maybe if we were all as kind to each other as Steve Stanich has been to me, we might just survive this apocalyptic puddle of shit we currently find ourselves in.
Reading those articles was demoralizing, at best. It was hard not to read them and conclude that, indeed, the Internet has put us all in an “apocalyptic puddle of shit.” And, while I would like to believe that we could all agree to be as kind to each other as Steve Stanich was to the author of that last article, I’m not at all hopeful about it.
I am more convinced than ever that we need the federal government to regulate at least the big platforms and/or media companies like Facebook, Google and Twitter. I don’t know yet what that regulation would look like, but I am learning. This week, I also read one article about that and I plan to read more.
But, now for the double entendre…
In addition to doing LOTS of reading over the last 4+ days, it is also the case that I haven’t posted anything to Twitter or Facebook over that time span. That’s… unusual for me. And… nobody noticed. Or, people noticed and didn’t comment on it or care to comment. Nobody sent me a direct or private message to say, “Hey, I noticed you’ve been unusually quiet. Everything OK?” And, I can’t lie. It’s not a good feeling. Perhaps my social media ties are looser than I had believed. I don’t know…
(And, frankly, had anyone asked, the answer would have been that no, not everything is OK. For the privacy of my family, I will leave it at that.)
Because of what’s happened over the last 4+ days, both online (where nothing has happened) and offline, I have decided that I need to regulate my own social media habits. That is, I need to come to terms with my own unhealthy relationship to social media. I still think there is value in Twitter and Facebook for me (even though both companies are pretty awful). I think I can find ways to prune and tune my networks and adopt behaviors that allow me to still derive the benefits from social media that I have found over the last number of years. I don’t yet have any specific ideas on what that means exactly, but I will be pondering it all over the long holiday weekend.
In sum, yes, it is time to regulate social media, in more ways than one.