Soapbox

Why social media is bad for us

Facebook is under fire for failing to rein in fake and biased news stories that some believe may have swayed the presidential election.
Facebook is under fire for failing to rein in fake and biased news stories that some believe may have swayed the presidential election. Associated Press file

By some accounts, 2016 was the first social media election because of how Twitter and Facebook unmasked the evil lurking inside us. It amplified bad behavior. Civility vanished. Had people always been this way, only we chose to ignore it?

Here are three ways in which social media encourages anti-social behavior:

1. It gives us a false sense of importance. By posting opinions and selfies, we delude ourselves about our place in the world. We may get 24 “likes,” but there are 324 million people in the United States.

2. It encourages vanity, one reason we visit social media sites every day and post things about ourselves. It’s “social adrenaline,” the rush of having others agree with us.

3. We say things online that we would never say in person. Have you ever received an email written in ALL CAPS and then spoken face-to-face with the author? You find often that the writer is much less angry. People feel secure in the anonymity of electronic communication.

On social media, we surround ourselves with like-minded “friends” and disengage from society by creating an “us versus them” view of the world. We justify it by saying we don’t want to engage with people who disagree with us, but I think what we mean is we don’t want to be Facebook friends with “those people.”

I’ve heard it said that we can count on the fingers of one hand the number of good friends in our lives. A good friend is someone who drives out to the Yolo Causeway to jump-start our car when the battery dies, or someone who knows what flavor of ice cream to order for us. Sometimes, those friends disagree with us on fundamental issues, but that never jeopardizes the friendship.

Who is a Facebook friend? Quite often, it’s someone we know only vaguely well who clicks “like” on our posts. We would never equate Facebook friends with real friends, although some of our real friends are also friends on Facebook. If our friends and followers on social media are really just a large audience of like-minded people, we must be really lonely if we need to log online every day.

We give a lot of importance to protecting privacy and not being targeted by advertising, but that’s how Facebook, Twitter and Google stay in business. To keep using those services while complaining about privacy is akin to surfing every day and complaining about the waves.

For those who’ve already quit social media, or never joined in the first place, maybe I’ll see you on the bike trail.

Robert Blair Osborn is a Sacramento author. He can be contacted at sordello7@gmail.com.

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