This blog ties in with my previous blog about incivility. It doesn’t rehash the incident in any way, but the topic does refer to the results of incivility, namely the effects incivility has had on changing the way civil people communicate on social media. Firstly, civil people are no longer actually communicating their true thoughts and feelings on topics meaningful to them without fear of retribution. Secondly, many civil people are no longer even trying to communicate anything beyond fluff on thoughts of strong beliefs, issues or opinions in order to avoid “offending” anyone else. Thirdly, there are some people who use their basic anonymity to blast people with whom they disagree, and they do it in a manner they most likely would never use in face to face situations because face to face they wouldn’t have the courage to be so vitriolic. In face to face communication, anonymity disappears. Finally, these platforms have algorithms which actively search for material which may be offensive according to their community standards, even in a private conversation. All of these things together actively work to suppress real and meaningful communication rather than facilitate the free exchange of feelings and ideas. I do not pose these points lightly.
Firstly, as I stated above, people are now posting pablum disguised as philosophical bits of wisdom or whimsy rather than posting what they really think or feel about a topic because of concerns of retribution. On a couple of popular platforms (owned by the same company), it is a growing practice to join someone’s private page to look for things that might be offensive. Once something is found, the seeker anonymously reports the post to which they object. The platform then penalizes the poster of the item in such a manner as is often disruptive and intrusive censorship of the person being targeted by the individual who requested to be allowed to see the content of the account holder in the first place. Often, the individual protesting “offensive” content reports post after post without the owner of the account being able to remove that single account access in order to protect their account from the ongoing terrorism. Quite often the reports are made over a period of time as the complaintant searches for older and older posts or pictures to report. The account holder has no recourse except to remove every single person who has account access or to close their account completely, which is the primary goal of the anonymous Content Terrorist. I use the term terrorist because it is the goal of such an individual to inflict such intimidation as to cause anxiety, if not out right fear, for the owner of the account.
Secondly, memes and Gifs have become the primary communication of many. For instance, coming across the stream I see on my Facebook home page are mostly memes and Gifs of cute and cuddly animals which are primarily meant to elicit positive responses by the very cuteness of the animals or the sweetness of the actions of the animals, or the intent is to elicit emotions of sadness or outrage at the plight of the animals at the cruel hands of other human beings or lack of protection of the animals by our legislative bodies. In other words, words are superfluous. What is desired is the emoticons (emojis- static little faces) provided for us by Facebook, the likes, hearts, wows, tearful faces and outrage. Facebook quantifies the importance and relevance of our posts by the responses they elicit, even if nothing is actually said. As a result, we users of Facebook are then conditioned to do so as well. The first thing we look for is the number of emoji reactions we get. Next we look for explanations of the responses that weren’t desired as we go down the comment list of *stickers giving us all of the appropriate emotional responses for which we were looking. (*A sticker is a few steps above an emoji, which is static. Stickers can be static or have motion. Both types express more energy in a huge range of more personalized messages taking into account personal tastes and cultural influences.) Sometimes people find themselves needing to have the desired responses to their posts in order to have daily affirmation that they are appreciated by someone, that they are someone based on the opinions of people they have never met. Personally, none of my posts has ever received a sticker comment that wasn’t in line with the response for which I was looking, and yes, I have fallen into the trap of disappointment over a lack of reactions and comments to my posts, both fluff and those with intended substance.
Thirdly, some responses to my posts have been quite visceral, and sometimes, I believe, composed of words the other person would never have said to my face. They never would have said them directly to my face because they would have been confronted with me as a real person, and that could get really, really messy emotionally. They would be seeing me as a physical being and not just a name on a screen. They would be confronted with the results of their hateful words. There would be an actual human being with whom they think they’ve made a connection with numerous times, but now all of their assumptions about how alike we think having seemingly been shattered. However, in the framework of the insulated social media network, on some level people are not viewed as a real human beings. Indeed, no one is! People have been reduced to being nothing more than an avatar with possibly a made up name on the screen. There’s been no actual personal connection despite years of reacting to one another’s posts. The key word here is reacting. A reaction is created by a superficial stimulus. There has been little or no deeper communication or meeting of two personalities which have been busily reacting to one another’s posts. Be very clear. The reality is that a ‘like’ is not a connection. The following instance is one such example. I was questioning, politics aside, how could the Democrats have been working on President Trump’s impeachment for 2.5 years (A public statement made by Congresswoman Pelosi.) when the offenses for which he was being impeached occurred thirty months after his election? I stated I recalled the promise to impeach him being made before he was ever sworn into office. (It was.) A man (he gave up his right to be called a gentleman) replied, “Trumptards should be sterilized. HE IS A CROOK and should be in jail.” I would have overlooked this aggression, however, he deleted himself from my Friend List and blocked me. That indicates he meant this as a personal attack, and he had no intention of having any discussion with me to clarify my concerns over that statement. For the sake of peace and politeness, I tend to ignore political posts with which I disagree. If I do comment, it is never in a manner of attack against the person making the post. That’s rude, and it’s just not worth the aggravation when I, in most other ways (We all have bad days.), get along well with the people on my Friend List. Why anger or hurt someone simply because you can? But social media has made it beyond easy for people to do just that every day. Forget the poison pen of yesteryear. We now have the corrosive cursor.
Of the points I brought up in the beginning, the thing I find most concerning is the intrusion into private conversation over subjects as intimate as two sisters discussing breast cancer surgery. Pictures of the surgery site shared between them was deleted, followed by them both being warned for violating “Community Standards” because of the nature of the privately shared pictures. These were highly private pictures of something as devastating as the aftermath of a mastectomy, and their right to have this intimate conversation was violated in such a cruel way. This is such a short paragraph, but for me it is a very loaded one. How far into your intimate conversations are they willing to plunge and punish you for when there is some private conversation which truly can prove damaging to our public domain regarding our safety? I do acknowledge this can become a long, slippery slope when having to choose how far these platforms should be allowed to go and what they should allowed to read. I think there are words which should be red flag words, but there needs to be some level of common sense about what they should be, too.
Finally, one more concern I have is that this kind of intrusion seems to have led to open coercion of platform users on the part of the platform providers. For instance, does it ever seem to you that the social media platforms themselves are acting like everyone’s conscience or electronic parents? Because people aren’t behaving, and they really have no incentive to do so, now the platforms have introduced something called Community Standards. Nice and vague, huh? On the surface, it sounds like a good thing. Behave and your account won’t get warned, content removed, suspended for ever increasing lengths of time or flat out shut down. Unfortunately, the algorithms don’t seem to find the really bad offenders in an even handed manner. Quite often, it seems that really nasty people can say what they want, to whomever they want, because they’ve figured out how to play the algorithms. Say this word, but not that word. Don’t actually call a name, insinuate what is meant. Imply to the heart’s content. It’s not your fault what the other person infers. Unless someone gets their feelings really hurt, and they report your post. Then, a real person reviews it, and most times the reporting individual is told the post didn’t rise to the level of an actual violation of Community Standards. Thus, the bully gets to keep on being a bully. Then there are those who have figured out how to use the reporting of posts, and pictures uploaded by platform users to their photo albums, as a weapon of harassment. It’s possible because the Community Standards are based on what the current opinion of the people writing the Community Standards decide what they don’t like and what they want their users to abide by. It’s based on the popular opinion of the media, and what they want their users to like and feel, as well. Make no mistake. The social media platforms are designed to be influencers of what their users think and feel regarding everything from what they buy to who they vote for in national elections. The algorithms find what they are specifically designed to find, and the people reviewing protested penalties apply their personal subjective opinions. They are seldom objective. How can they be when they were hired under a specific set of guidelines for their specific personal opinions?
These are all increasingly common events which further cause the disconnect of meaningful relationships between the users of the platforms which bill themselves as facilitators of communication amongst the users of these platforms. They’re not doing a very good job, are they? I wish I had some easy suggestions for solving these issues, but I don’t. Maybe now isn’t a good time for me to mention the rise of body dysphoria and severe anxiety amongst young people who are the primary users of these social media platforms…
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