I’ve never been a fan of social media. It’s not that I particularly hate the concept, it’s more that I hate the platforms, the companies behind them, the effect it has on the web as a whole and the way society sometimes mistakenly takes a lead from what social media says.
I have, however, had a foray into Twitter recently, mainly just as an observer to see what goes on, and it’s worrying. More specifically, the politics is very worrying indeed.
Politics on Twitter consists mainly of naive, ill-considered sniping that has the singular effect of creating divisions. There’s the right with their aggressive posturing, outdated views and direct approach, and then there’s the left with their own brand of insulting tweets, wrapped in a veneer of intellectualism but no less insidious because of it.
Twitter is also the place where generational divides are enhanced by the hard of thinking. Baby boomers cast millennials as weak snowflakes who expect everything handed to them on a plate. Millennials cast baby boomers as archaic capitalists who deliberately screwed up their future by buying a house (which, bizarrely, is exactly what the millennials want to do).
Neither of those things are true of course. Both generations simply survived in the society that was dealt to them and both would respond to the advantages and disadvantages of society in the same way if the situations were reversed.
What social media — or certainly Twitter in my experience — does is it enhances divisions and creates partisan groups based on grossly inaccurate generalisations. If such things were limited to social media we could cast them all as inept and forget about it, but the mainstream media takes (too much) notice of what happens on social media these days and these opinions feed back into society, poisoning it in the process.
There are many worthy campaigns underway related to equality these days but social media cheapens them and often when tweets and posts fight one inequality, they do so by enhancing an inequality somewhere else. The most astonishing thing is that the offenders just don’t see what they’re doing either; they want equality but only their version of equality.
The problem isn’t that social media serves as a platform for extreme views or people merely letting off steam — that’s probably fine on its own — it’s that social media is so influential in the outside world. That’s where it all goes wrong because it really isn’t representative of society in general. It may not even be representative of the real opinions of those who post on social media. The platform itself seems to turn people into bitter, ranting buffoons and, who knows, maybe they post intelligent political opinions elsewhere.
I should be careful not to generalise myself of course. There certainly are carefully considered and intelligent political opinions on social media but, in general, balance is hard to come by.
So what’s good about social media?
Well, there is one thing and that’s the humour. There are some incredibly funny people on social media (or, at least, on Twitter as far as I’ve seen) and they’re worth following just for the wit.
Furthermore, social media can be surprising from time to time. In amongst the vitriol there’s compassion and caring. Sometimes you have to look hard to find it but it’s there and it’s wonderful to see.
So, my advice for surviving social media is simply to ignore any and all politics, enjoy some of the excellent humour and savour those moments when people rally around someone in trouble.