A made acquaintance with author Ramsey Hootman through Twitter several years ago. She followed my weight loss journey, which I chronicled in painful (and perhaps boring) detail for the local newspaper for several years.
Ramsey told me she modeled one of the villains in a book after me. It’s nice to be inspire art, regardless of how the final piece turns out.
One day, I made a negative (probably several) comments about how terrible I think social media is.
Ramsey took this personally. She sent several pointed tweets about how she met her husband through social media and her kids wouldn’t exist without social media.
I did what reasonable people who believe in polite discourse do when confronted with an opinion different than their own: I blocked her.
That was mean.
I should have just gone with mute.
What I really should have done is never typed the tweets in the first place. Everyone has an opinion about social media — good, bad, or indifferent.
Many people use social media to express those feelings, which feels ironic, possibly stupid.
If you hate social media so much, why are you spending so much time on it?
I thought about this predicament as the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, and New York Times dissected the Facebook Files, a series of internal documents that show just how rotten Mark Zuckerberg’s empire is.
A lot of the reporting tells us things we could have guessed: Instagram, a product of Facebook (who recently changed the name of its parent company to Meta), creates damaging anxiety in young girls.
Facebook’s own data crunchers produced a report on how toxic the service was. The pooh-bahs at Facebook shrugged. So? People keep clicking, don’t they?
Facebook programmers have created an algorithm that takes advantage of every human weakness.
Facebook discovered people responded more often to stories that made them angry or sad.
So they pushed content at users that was more likely to make them react with extreme emotion.
Human beings are rotten at rational communication. We excel at tantrums, giggles, and sobs.
Thoughtful discussion requires calm to explore nuance and detail.
Facebook doesn’t care about nuance. Get angry. Comment. Get other people angry. Just keep clicking.
The longer your eyeballs are on Facebook, the more they can push ads, paid conspiracy theories, and pure lies at you to keep your mind inflamed, enraged, or depressed.
Here’s how insidious Facebook really is: The American newspaper, a nearly extinct medium, is so dependent on social media that even the pillars of the trade — the Times, the Journal, and the Post — use Facebook to promote and distribute their content.
That means their big scoops on the Facebook Files were posted and promoted on Facebook.
Every time someone clicked on a Facebook post by a newspaper about what a rotten, amoral monstrosity Facebook is, Facebook made money.
This is like firefighters arriving at the scene of a five-alarm fire at high-rise apartment building to find the hydrants pumped only gasoline.
If ever there were a company too big to fail, it’s Facebook.
Facebook and its sundry products, Instagram, WhatsApp, and Messenger have 3.51 billion monthly users.
That’s almost 45% of the world’s 7.87 billion population. They would have more, but China won’t allow them.
It’s a dark day in America when you kind of envy the Chinese media landscape.
If any of us had any guts or principles, myself included, we’d quit Facebook forever. Delete the apps. Never get involved in whatever the hell the Metaverse is, which promises to be even more immersive.
But we won’t.
I won’t either.
I won’t because I like an audience.
I’m just as weak and vulnerable to the algorithms as anybody else. I obsessively check to see if people have liked my post or clicked through to read the columns, listen to my podcasts, or other media dalliances.
Sometimes they’re moved enough to send a donation (always welcome, by the way) and that feels pretty good, too.
Somehow, I believe that if a few people read my paragraph stacks, I’m still a city columnist and not a castaway from the news trade that I loved (and hated) so much for so many years.
That’s my weakness. I’m sure the algorithm knows that and other sad truths about this middle-aged fat man.
I may delete Facebook and Twitter when it comes time to look for my teaching job. I don’t think I’ve said anything terrible.
But those emotive communicators play for blood. They don’t just want an apology; they want a person’s livelihood and maybe a public execution, at least that’s how it feels.
To be fair, Ramsey Hootman was right. Some positive things come out of Facebook. My friend Mary raised a lot of money so I could afford knee surgery this summer and people continue to support me while I wait for word on training extension benefits.
I’ve got some time before I have to decide about Facebook and social media. I built up quite a following on social media. It seems like a waste to throw that audience away.
Then again, that’s the rub, isn’t it? They keep playing off my confirmation bias that it’s important to have an audience, that my writing isn’t valuable unless published, and on it goes.
The algorithm is all powerful. I am helpless to resist it.
Just like every other addiction.
Still, I’m glad social media’s algorithm helped Ramsey Hootman find love and have kids.
For what it’s worth, Ramsey, if you’re out there, I’m sorry I blocked you.
Daniel P. Finney wrote for newspapers for 27 years before being laid off in 2020. He teaches middle school English now. He writes columns and podcasts for ParagraphStacker.com, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating $10 a month to help him cover the expenses of this site.
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