By Dianne Bayley
Any business using social media that would post pictures of its bank statements, transcripts of in-house dramas and videos of HR firing people would be nuts, right? Right. But individuals do the equivalent all the time. Take, for example, the run up to yesterday’s US election . . .
I lived in the USA for a few years and have had ties with many of its people for the last 15 years or more. I always loved the way I was welcomed wherever I went; how “innocent” many Americans appeared compared to those of us who have grown up in Johannesburg, where you learn to watch your own back in shop windows as you pass by. I loved how honest and kind Americans were, in all the 13 states I was lucky enough to visit. Then . . . Social Media + Election came along and, to be honest, has shattered my illusions . . .
Rarely have I seen so much vitriol, name-calling, “unfriending”, defensive behaviour and closed mindedness as I saw in the runup to this 2012 election. If it was a book I was reading, I’d research the author to see if there was any history of mental illness in his/her family and then ditch the book.
I work on Facebook, Twitter and other platforms, so there was no “I don’t have to sign in today” for me. There was (thank you Mark Zuckerberg and Co) a “hide” button, though, and I may have worn mine out. (Especially on those who thought Facebook was Twitter and gave a blow-by-blow account of every speech or state visit, ALL the time.)
Here’s the deal about social media: We see you. We see you posting those cute little “Love is all we need” pictures of kittens and “Everybody deserves equal rights” quotes by Johnny Depp and “Imagine” videos by John Lennon, and you look like a fabulous, caring person. Then someone asks a question about Obamas drone strike strategy or National Defence Authorisation Act (which was a key part in the cesspool that was Apartheid, as I recall) or Romney’s anti-gay, anti-women (oh, just Google ANYTHING Romney) and your true colours come shining through . . . all over Facebook. No more the cute kittens and love, love, love. No more should “everyone get a fair chance, we believe in freedom of speech”. Not even an educated (meaning, “Okay, I took a look at your article/video and here’s what I think”) answer. Just . . . vitriol.
How sad it has been for me to see a nation I have upheld as a great one over the years tearing each other to shreds on social media. By my reckoning – given that Americans really only have two parties they could vote for – there was a 50% chance they were hating their neighbour. And they did. Bugger “Mom and Apple Pie”. Bugger Johnny Depp, Imagine and Maya Angelou. They ripped into each other, in front of 900 million other Facebook users – some of whom aren’t American, you know – and shredded each other while we watched.
I must admit to watching in morbid fascination some days as people I thought I knew slammed their minds shut when facts were presented by “the other side” and merely started name calling. It was a deseprate and pitiful defense of “their guy”, and made me wonder what “their guy” had to hide if all his followers had to defend him so vehemently. I wondered if that had ever happened with true leaders, like The Mahatma Ghandi or Martin Luther King Jnr. Did Gandhi’s followers resort to name calling and “unfriending” when someone didn’t like what he said? (“Hah! Your guy wears FROCKS and likes SALT!”)
Because of the immediacy of social media, I’m going to suggest that it lives in “dog years”; that one year online is actually as valuable (or tiresome) as five years in real life. It certainly felt like the US election went on for 20 years and, by voting day, I had learned all kinds of new passive-aggressive strategies I could use on people. Of course, they would have to be online people, as in “real life” I’m terribly nice and wouldn’t want anyone thinking I could be vicious.
By yesterday (voting day), most of the posts on my page were hidden. Today, I am hiding the gloating . . . only because that, too, is kinda toxic. Instead of “Yay, my guy won”, we’re getting treated to “LOSER! Listen to the LOSER’S speech here”. Goodness me, America. What happened to sportmasnhip, courtesy and “the best guy won”? What happened to good grace if your guy lost?
So, here’s the thing. Social media is the most incredible form of communication of my lifetime. I can learn about all kinds of people, places and things at the click of a mouse. And I can SEE you. I can see how happy you are to live where you do; how sad you get when you lose a loved one; how kittens and wildlife and charities bring joy to your heart and others. And I can see your hatred and closed mindedness, and you can see mine. And it negates any of the beautiful quotes I post on my page when you’re happy that other people lose or die or get shredded.
Used purely in the social sense, one individual to another (with millions watching, of course) social media really is the window to your soul.