Monday, 3 November 2014

Is social media working?

I remember the world before the internet, Facebook and Twitter. It wasn't necessarily quieter. It wasn't free of over-opinionated people either. It's just that the whole world didn't have to hear what they had to say. It seems we've reached saturation point with instant quotes, pictures and video footage of everything that people say, eat and do. So maybe its time we ask ourselves; is social media working?

I never like to put other people down when making a point. So for the purpose of this story I'll use myself as an example. I've been a twitter user since 2008. When I started out, I was like most other people embracing this new found form of instant global awareness, misled by the false perception that the world was waiting to hear about everything I did or thought. Now, years later, I finally get it. People aren't interested in everything I say or do. My thoughts, quotes, ideas and one-liners, are sometimes better served as advice to the people I actually talk to, than squashed into two lines less than 140 characters long.

In the early days of twitter, we would all suffer through useless tweets such as; "eating pizza, Yum," if it meant the chance of gaining more followers. Now days, the twitter-verse seems full of people who enjoy the public attention of putting-down celebrities, sports stars and politicians. Maybe we should ask ourselves just who we are following? These people generally hide behind non-descriptive names such as @kwijibo167bounce, and remain forever anonymous. (My apologies if this is actually your twitter handle and I hope you are not one of the people I described above). But when a movie star or sportsperson vents their frustrations on the twitter-sphere, their quotes often make the evening news. Or get taken out of context. After all, there is only so much of your thoughts you can squash into 140 characters.

In Australia, when a National Rugby League player takes to Twitter to share God's thoughts on the topic of same-sex marriage, he is promptly turned upon by an angry mob of people who seem to hate the idea of opposite sex marriage and like hiding behind a bunch of non-descriptive names. The incident made newspaper headlines and went on to brand the player as a homophobic Christian, when in fact the full article that his link referred to was an extremely well-written and thought-out piece of work that was taken entirely out of context. The player's best attempts to explain this unfortunately fell of deaf ears. My point is this; the nameless people who use social media for inflammatory comment feel vindicated because they are purely expressing their view. Whereas real people who use their real names to share thoughts on social media are crucified if they offend even the 2 percent minority. Something seems dreadfully out of balance.

Can I ask the obvious here? Is social media working? Or have we created an anti-social media platform? Some of the things that people feel inclined to write about so freely on twitter, already had their own special place reserved in a world before social media and the internet. It was called the back of the toilet door.

Good grief, social media has become a place where people feel they have the right to express their opinion, any opinion for that matter without needing to answer to anyone. Back in 2008 I may have felt inclined to ask the person who had just tweeted that they were eating pizza, what kind of pizza they were eating. But what if it is pepperoni? Will I offend my vegetarian followers? I don't think so. As it stands, my 1,500 twitter followers last year did not run out and buy 1,500 copies of my latest novel. I think we need to keep social media in perspective. It is purely designed as a way of sharing interests and connecting with people who share those same interests. If I like pepperoni pizza, am a Christian and am interested in trains, then I'm sure that saying so doesn't offend vegetarian atheists who hate taking the train to work. It just is what it is, a little bit of information.

My advice is this; while social media can connect you to the world, remember that it is a world full of strangers. If you have something personal to share with your friends and family, then use the phone or send an email. A witty put-down of someone online may win you followers, but it certainly won't win you any friends.

No comments: