Sunday, September 5, 2021

Social Media, Politics, and the New Etiquette

Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is "Social Media and politics: Should you speak your mind or keep your tongue?"

So, once upon a time, friends and neighbors, this used to be a subject for actual debate. Social media was new, the internet itself was new, and we had a lot of conversations that involved determining the etiquette of this new, virtual world. Especially where social media was concerned, there was a lot of advice-giving around establishing a persona/brand. Many of us first adopted social media as a way to gain viewers/readers. I joined Facebook and Twitter originally to funnel people into reading my newly created blog. So we treated social media as a kind of moving billboard for ourselves. 

Accordingly, we focused on creating a non-controversial, attractive persona/brand. We also took the longstanding holiday dinner etiquette of staying away from money, religion, and politics. It was the approach of someone who wanted to maintain family connection enough to hold their tongue for a few hours - and then depart to go live an unedited life after.

Well, a funny thing happened as the internet grew and more people adopted social media: it became a globally connected form of communication. News could be transmitted immediately, from people directly involved. Grassroots efforts became more effective than ever. It became more difficult to hide or suppress injustices. 

In ecology, we talk about the predator-prey cycle. If there are too many coyotes, they eat all the rabbits. Because there are no more rabbits, the coyotes die off and the population diminishes. With fewer coyotes around, the rabbit population bounces back - and so follows the coyote population. 

Well, those interested in perpetuating injustice, feeling thwarted by the power of the internet to drag their nasty business into the scorching light of social disapproval, countered by developing an elaborate misinformation effort. The internet and social media shared damaging information? Well, they would kill it by flooding social media with so much false and misleading information that people wouldn't be able to tell the difference.

And so the cycle continues.

I don't know if I'm a rabbit or a coyote - it could depend on the day - but I do know that the way I combat the flood of misinformation is by being authentic. I don't feel we have the luxury of presenting a bland persona to the online world. If we don't speak up, then we create a silence that allows other voices to dominate. We're not talking about a family dinner that lasts a few hours. This IS our lives, day in and day out. If we choose to hold our tongues in the name of seducing readers with a blandly non-offensive position, then we're choosing to live edited lives - and to allow the blowhards to dominate the conversation. We can't afford to hold our tongues, even for a few hours. 

Turns out, family dinners have gotten a lot more contentious, too. Frankly, I think that's a good thing. Harmony that comes from voices being silenced is no harmony at all.