OPINION — It started out as a “Harvard thing,” something Mark Zuckerberg launched just for fun. Some $35.7 billion (and counting) later, Facebook has become, arguably, the most incredible cultural development on the planet.
Like it or not, if you are not connected to Facebook, you are not connected to the real world.
For better or worse, it is the community clearinghouse for the planet, where you can stand on a soapbox and preach your particular political, social, religious or cultural views.
Truth, as a result, has been lost in the shuffle. To discard or disdain social media, to shrug it off as insignificant or meaningless, is ignorance at the very least. It is the most meaningful social barometer we have.
And, that barometric pressure right now is astounding as we see it dip and soar like an amazing roller coaster at some overpriced theme park.
I mean, if somebody simply says, “Well, it’s Facebook, it doesn’t matter,” run, do not walk, away from the discussion because the speaker of those words probably believes the Earth is flat, the moon is made of cheese and the sun revolves around us.
Some use Facebook simply as a way to stay in touch with family and friends. Others use it as the very powerful marketing and promotional tool it has become. Just about everybody, however, dips their toe into the sociopolitical pool eventually. Whether it’s just wading through the miasma of social discourse or plunging headfirst, we all do it.
And we all tend to go overboard at times.
I recently had one of those moments where reality, truth and all that was good was suspended by some foul postings by a person who made me realize that no matter how open minded you try to be, no matter how you try to understand somebody else’s point of view, some people are simply not worth the time it takes to wade through their arrogance or stupidity and that it is simply wisest to hit the “unfriend” button than to waste any more energy trying to help them mask their ignorance.
The case in point was centered on a blatantly incendiary post that included a Photoshopped meme that libeled a particular political figure. It went way beyond the bounds of commentary and straight into libel, which means there was, indeed, an intent to harm the standing and reputation of this particular political figure.
When I pointed out that the photo was manipulated and that the claims were untrue, the response was simply “Deal with it.”
It was an inflammatory post, one that had no basis in fact, as verified in numerous fact-checking citations, yet this person didn’t seem to be interested in truth, even when another person pointed out that the post was deliberately specious.
Now, I have seen a lot of things on Facebook that are blatantly untrue, particularly as we make our way through the troubled waters of a presidential campaign that is already wildly out of hand. I have posted comments or sent notes to the people who have posted them. Until this latest incident, everybody else has either taken down their post or made a correction.
As a matter of record, I have also been guilty, in the past, of posting things that I thought were accurate but, in reality, weren’t quite as accurate as I thought. It’s embarrassing and damages the credibility of any other thoughts or “facts” we may contribute to the continuing Facebook discussion. So now, I make it a point to check the veracity of those things I either share from another poster or find or create on my own.
But that still doesn’t fix that which is broken, and as we are seeing, there is a lot broken in the Facebook world.
Quite honestly, there are times when my Facebook news feed looks like it was put together by the editors of one of those grocery store tabloids who like to push stories about alien monkey babies working in a secret government lab to secure world domination or blare doctored photos of discredited celebrities who are alleged to have participated in any variety of unspeakable acts.
It swings both ways, too.
I’ve seen posts that I’d really, really, really like to believe, only to do a quick bit of research that reveals that they are a fabrication. I’ve seen items posted about both sides that are so ludicrous that no matter how you feel about Donald Trump, Barack Obama or any other politician, you have to call the poster out and set the record straight, even though the record is meaningless to many trolling the social media waters.
What worries me is that Facebook — this incredible social networking tool — is so widespread, so easily accessible, so frighteningly powerful, that it could easily lead us into serious trouble.
Don’t believe me? Look carefully at your Facebook page. I am sure the overwhelming majority of you have one. And, I would assume, that you are not so closed-minded that you only have friends with identical thoughts. Look at the content, read what is being put forward, do a little research.
I wish I had, for example, a dollar for every time somebody has reposted a meme about Pope Francis, the most misquoted religious leader of our time. Very few of the posts attributed to him and his administration of the Catholic church are true.
And, sadly, we see the hypocrisy at work in our society as you enjoy the sentimentality of a person’s sweet and loving post about Christmas or family or little kittens, then scroll down a bit and see them assassinate the character of some politician who “has ruined our country.”
Real Christian charity at work there, right? But, where do we draw the line?
You could spend an entire day — all 24 hours of it — editing, correcting or disproving these missives of family, friends and those you have connected with on social media in one way or another. You can try to break up the verbal fisticuffs that break out, often over innocent posts (I know, I’ve seen it happen repeatedly), until you get to the point that you just don’t want to communicate with anybody because you’re afraid that by saying something as simple as, “It’s a beautiful day,” you will launch a war of words over global warming, when all you wanted to do was be nice, be sociable, be kind.
I don’t think that’s what Zuckerberg had in mind when he started this thing. I’m sure he didn’t envision some propaganda machine that would pit us against each other, set us off into angry tirades or make us sever relationships because of some ridiculous posts.
We’re coming up pretty close to Christmas and the New Year holidays. As we try to spread peace, love and happiness, why not give each other a real present and drop all the anger and anguish, all the vitriol, all the unpleasantness, and make a resolution that we will seek truth in the new year, delivered with patience and tolerance.
Ed Kociela is an opinion columnist. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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