The Internet has made the world very small, in a good way, exposing us to information, cultures, and ideas we might not get in our neighborhoods and circles of friends.
It is also very stupid. Like almost all human endeavors, the lowest common denominator tends to grow a loud voice, clamoring to be heard even when it has little productive to say. Nowhere is that more apparent than on social media.
Below are the top seven worst things about social media. There are of course seven great things, but today we’re going to talk about what we probably all agree is really terrible.
7. Every lunatic and his mother has a soap box.
One of the nice things about the pre-social era was that crazy people tended to be confined to their IRC chat rooms or the Letters to the Editor section of the local
newspaper. Now they not only have 47,000 followers on Twitter, they get all up in your mentions. Sometimes they even get asked to give their opinion on cable news.
6. In that vein, everybody with a smartphone has an opportunity to humiliate themselves everyday.
Tired tweeting, drunk posting, not fact checking yourself…the temptation to just blurt whatever is on one’s mind is so great, and nearly irresistible in the post-talk show era. We all used to keep our thoughts to ourselves or our closest confidants. Then Oprah and Donahue came along, ushering in Dr. Phil, and now everybody feels the need to air their grievances and feelings. Social media makes that so much easier.
In the early days of social media, the main culprits of overshare were teenaged girls. This is understandable; Twitter was billed as a microblogging service and MySpace felt almost like a diary. Now your 67-year-old surgeon is up at 1 A.M. sharing her inability to sleep and love of mangoes.
5. Potential employers use it to screen you.
Your resume, CV, Linked In and winning smile are not enough. Now every time you look for a new job, you can be googled, followed on Twitter, and friended on Facebook.
You’d think this would make people more aware of what they say on social media, and treat people they interact with more civilly. That is generally not the case. It’s true that many employers do not have the time to scour every photo of you drunk at a club, every argument you’ve had about pineapple on pizza or which politician is in fact the anti-Christ, but that doesn’t mean they can’t — or won’t if they’re stuck between choosing you and somebody equally qualified.
4. Direct and personal messages are a minefield.
Nearly every day, a girlfriend group texts the following: “OMG I just friended this guy and he’s already slid into my DMs with a dick pic.”
The response from every woman, every time? “UGH. WTF is wrong with people?”
You could be posting a photo series of cardigans you’ve crocheted for your granddaughter and somebody will private message you, “HOT PIX.” And the guy’s bio doesn’t matter. It could say “secular humanist bon vivant”, “Christian father of three” or “Representative for the 9th Congressional District.” The relative anonymity of social media emboldens certain men to engage in predatory behavior.
3. It’s changing news into “content.”
Let’s take a quick moment to acknowledge the irony of me pointing this out in a listicle. Okay, back to the story.
We used to just report news. Who, what, when, where, and how sold newspapers and got people to tune in. Ever since news could be retweeted or shared with the user’s pithy comments, online reporters are now compelled to also add “why” and “the implications” and also some kind of crappy, click bait headline like “He resigns as president of Zimbabwe — you won’t BELIEVE what happens next!”
We have billions of things to read, almost none of it substantive and much of it inflammatory. Most readers are too lazy to do the additional research to verify the information presented, and that’s if they even get past the dramatic headline. It’s creating a world full of barely informed people who think they know everything. It’s like we’re all seventeen.
2. Finding out people you like in real life are something else online.
When the same Aunt Gladys who helped you ace calculus posts chain letter memes, or your super awesome new friend from work turns out to be an anti-vaxxer, what do you do?
You can’t get into a virtual shouting match with someone you love or might see the next day at work. You also know they’re not stupid. So why are they posting stupid things?
This is one of those times you just can’t engage online. It might not even be worth it to engage in person. Just hide the post, or if it’s really bad (like an election season), you may need to Hide All or Mute for a while. People who post items that leave no room for meaningful discussion are not going to welcome your meaningful discussion.
And number 1: Doxing, stalking, and swatting.
When people who decide they hate you online also decide to hurt you in real life, social media is at its very, very worst. Doxing is finding and publishing your private information online so that people can take their harassment of you out of your mentions — and into your home and work.
Stalking is when someone takes that info and starts to follow you in real life, whether they are obsessively attracted or detest you — or both.
Swatting is when someone takes that info and calls in a false report to 911 that something awful has happened at your house, like “shots fired” or a bomb threat. This is illegal, but like all laws, it doesn’t stop really determined, sick people from breaking it.
Swatting is not a prank. It can cause serious bodily harm and/or emotional trauma. It is a waste of police resources and taxpayer money even if it doesn’t result in tragedy.
The good news is that social media also forms and foments really rewarding relationships and alliances. People are also starting to get fed up with the negative ways people use it, and actively change how they present themselves to others. Maybe compassion and congeniality will come back in style — even online.