The run up to the ill-fated EU referendum and it’s immediate aftermath has been gruelling. In what has been one of the biggest full-scale propaganda campaigns since the Phoney War, a total information overload has led me to deactivate my Facebook account for the sake of my mental well being. Many friends have expressed a similar sentiment. It is only a somewhat ironic fear of isolation in the current climate that has prevented most of them from doing so.
We seriously need to talk about Facebook.
First off, over the course of the campaign, what has stood out most to me about the ‘logged out’ conversations between certain close friends and acquaintances, is the fact so much of the talking on the topic was calmly conducted, comforting, and galvanising. Differing opinions and perspectives of all kinds were put forward and accepted as part of a [mostly] rational discourse with a strong emphasis on mutual respect.
Secondly, was the overwhelming view that the exchange of opinions over Facebook on the referendum had become an unbearable and damaging spectacle. Between the varying factions of Remain and Leave, a hideous moral pandemonium and ad hominem that has come to define the event swept across the social network. Beset on all sides by a gratuitous partisanship, those of us who were looking for a calm, circumspect environment in which to discuss the biggest political decision of an era where instead left to sift cack-handedly through a ceaseless splurge of virtual diarrhoea for any kernel of common understanding.
If referendum-book has shown us anything, it’s that the relentless browbeating, long established as Facebook de rigor, has moved beyond simply just being boring to downright demoralising. Preposterous cries of ‘DELETE ME IF YOU VOTE…’ is neither in the spirit of democracy nor remotely effective at getting people on your side. It is a hallmark of ineptitude in thinking an outburst of moralistic contempt is an act of education. For those of us still fond of the increasingly unfashionable art of real-life conversation, many have simply grown sick of condescending club-carders and those trying to shoe-horn their default lines of thought into the minds of others with their ghastly online authoritarianism.
Let me state clearly that I speak not from a position of detachment, but as a participant. By my own admission, the number of times I have sought to exert upper-handedness from the pulpit of my profile page is innumerable. However, the recent run up to ‘Brexit’ has been more than I can handle. This propensity for outrage-imbued moralising has digressed into a caustic, cartoonish pageantry. Amongst the online rubble of misinformation, memes, misgivings, hyperbole, and, in the end misfortune, it seems difficult to imagine what a ‘healthy’ or ‘constructive’ discussion would even feel like. It must certainly seem a boring prospect to many when pitted against a nerve-fraying milieu of Fear vs. Hysteria. In my experience, reasoned discussion usually, after all, leads to reasonable outcomes. It is certainly difficult to remember when such a thing was a regular occurrence.I am beginning to wonder very seriously if we are collectively capable of it any more.
Aside from the aforementioned account deactivation, my own personal Facexit has led me to fundamentally re-evaluate the way in which I use social media. As a pacifist in the ‘real world’, I have too quickly resorted to crass invective during the thick of a Facebook ‘debating’ spree. As a result I have said many things I regret and fallen out with people I actually quite like. Too often it feels like the conduct of social media thrives on spin and aggression. The behavioural overspill of our frantic comment-based intercommunication begins to have ramifications for the physical domain that we appear to have less and less patience for.
The narcissistic tendencies that underpin Facebook’s core philosophy and function has engendered a famine of self-effacement. A prevailing notion is that social media has made us all activists, though exactly how many of Facebook’s civilian users could honestly attest to claims of actual activism is open to interpretation.
In the self-sustaining universe of Facebook it can feel like all of the worlds problems can be instantaneously solved with a false dichotomy and an infographic. This is not to say I question the authenticity of people’s convictions, but the way in which they are expressed and the warped norms of information sharing and interaction in my personal opinion seems indicative of entropy. Friday’s shock result and the ensuing political chaos seems to reinforce this diagnosis.
Of course, it would be willfully naive to dismiss Facebook and its acolytes as irrelevant or without purpose, as it is obvious the platform lends itself to a great deal of genuine activism. I do not contest this. But at the same time I am not here to make that argument. This is an appeal to improvement from a man concerned about the combative direction in which liberal democracy is moving towards, at a fibre-optic speed.
Conclusively, if we are all now, as we like to believe, connected and empowered through the ascendance of social media, and, if the Internet is now our foremost conduit to justice, then for heaven’s sake, can we at least be a bit more sensible about it?
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