Is social media a good thing?

At the end of last week our American contacts started sharing a dark, worrying story. The New York Times reported, “The video was shocking in Florida, where shocking videos seem like a genre. A group of teenagers laughed and watched as a man struggled in the water of a pond. The man drowned, and his body was not found for days. The five teenagers did nothing to help him, not even call 911, but after examining the video, the authorities said this week that they did not break the law.”

The occurrence has reinforced a worry I have quietly been having for a few weeks: is social media a genuine force for good? I can only imagine that the children had lost a bit of their humanity as they pointed their camera phones at the victims, saying “Fucking hell, that will go viral!”

We all like to think that we wouldn’t do that ourselves, but I’ve a question for you: how many of your children saw a camera phone before they saw your face? As sad as it may seem, my daughter did. Washed and cleaned after being pulled from her mother’s womb (I have a photo on canvass of her taking her first breath in the operating theatre) she was placed in a crib, and her image was on Facebook within just a minute or two – possibly even before her mother held her.

The Matrix

Millions of my generation remember the Matrix, a trilogy of films in the late 90’s and early 2000’s depicting a world where humanity was enslaved by computers and fed imagery of ‘real life’ so that while we lay in chains we believed that we were in reality. People laughed at that, yet soon after found Facebook. A billion of us use the social media platform regularly. I’d like to know how many people use it more than three times a day. Again, I do. I have an hour’s quiet time when I wake up every morning and have banished myself from social media or emails until my porridge cooks in the microwave. Who have I provoked? What Tory is trolling me? Did I get more than 10 Likes of my photo of my daughter? All these questions float past my consciousness before the caffeine kicks in and the weight of the oats give me the strength to face the day.

Those of you about to engage with me over this article on the Dorset Eye FB forum will have the same thoughts at some point. Is there a Tory troll out there? Which bigot will pop up? Will my wisecrack get 50 Likes? My partner and I can get so absorbed in our cyber reality that we have been noticed in restaurants by staff, and joke that we are ‘Fubbing each other’. Are we together in the restaurant or are we feeding Mark Zuckerberg’s wallet?

The good of social media

Without doubt, the only reason Jeremy Corbyn is preparing for Downing Street is down to social media. In the 80’s Labour had Michael Foot. A brilliant intellectual, he was flayed alive by the national media and then humiliated in the polls in 1983. The mainstream media tried that with Corbyn but even as they tried the Labour Party grew to be the biggest political party in Europe and to the Mail, Express, even Guardian and BBC’s horror people used digital media to read and come to their own opinions. Theresa May thought she would be the next Maggie Thatcher in the recent election yet due to social media success leading to his rise, even the Tories conceded that Corbyn won the election. Not enough to get into power but certainly enough to shut his opponents up and enough to be reinvigorated for the coming battle ahead. I believe he will be PM soon. The leader of 70 million nodes of several supercomputers…?

The not so good

The last time I sat down and read a book that I didn’t have to professionally was around the time I graduated with my MA in 06. I have hundreds of them – between us my partner and I have an 8ft high by 10ft long bookshelf full of the matter we have absorbed in our time. It ain’t pretty either – many jammed sideways and each space crammed. Call it 40 cubic feet of literature. Yet I read shit about cats and babies after I have blown my brains out with hard work contributing to the morass of social media in the world every day as a professional content writer. I started reading a great book on a current philosophy when I went on holiday to France on my own recently but didn’t get past page 10. 

Of the 500,000 Labour members, most of us will be pretty well read. We have learned to question authority and question concepts. You get in a conversation at the Tolpuddle Festival and you’ll need fierce amounts of caffeine to move onto the next chat as socialists are a pretty bright bunch. How much have you really read and absorbed a good book instead of arguing with someone you’ve never met on the Tory / Labour Party Forum recently? I’m willing to bet that you’ve done a lot less than you have in the past. Besides, what you really are doing is feeding an advertising algorithm on Facebook merely by being a member of that group…

My issue lies in the fact that even as we are fed tidbits of information about things we agree or disagree with we are feeding a billionaire and his computer geek colleagues some of our time and intellectual space that we might otherwise put to some use. Of the half million in Labour, not enough of us are engaging in real world canvassing. If you are reading this and didn’t make excuses about canvassing your street, would the Tory dolt elected into your constituency in May still be there? I’ll raise my hand and say I could have done more myself! 

Could we do less here and more out there?

Arguments make a geek’s wallet grow fatter

I’ve sponsored ads in a political campaign recently. I ran the campaign solely on social media. It reached one person under 25, yet I had slaps on the back from my colleagues in the party for running such a ‘visible’ campaign. Zuckerberg got nearly £100 for it, less than he pays for a glass of champagne.

The social media online magazine Campaign reported early this year, “The internet giant’s ad revenue for 2016 totalled $26bn, a 57% increase from $17bn in 2015, it disclosed during its earnings report for the fourth quarter and full year ended December 31, 2016, last night.” The UK’s input to that came in at just under $2bn – 1/13th of the mainly tax free wodge that Zuckerberg trousered from our baby pictures, online rants and affiliation to good causes.

The cleverness of the advertising is that the sponsor of the sponsored ad only pays per click. You aren’t just helping your political party by responding to their ad, but you certainly are helping Zuckerberg stay free of the bonds of financial woe. His algorithms are designed to suppress ‘organic reach’. The blog that frankly scared the crap out of me and led to this article was one by the left wing Another Angry Voice blog about how his clicks fell through the floor, he alleges due to a tweak of the algorithm towards the mainstream media: 

“These AAV followers only thought I’d “come back” because my articles went so viral over the last week that they saw some of my content when it was shared by other people they know, not because Facebook showed it to them directly in their news feed.

The blog continued, “Out of the almost 300,000 people who follow the Another Angry Voice Facebook page I’m absolutely certain that there are huge numbers who never ever see any of my content thanks to the infuriating way the Facebook algorithms work.”

Adjusting media feeds?

If Zuckerberg was the neocon Zionist that many allege then we wouldn’t have had Tsipras in Greece, Corbyn here, and even the Arab Spring. Facebook and social media have undoubtedly enabled a forum for activists around the world to challenge the status quo. That is a good thing. Trump? Not such a good thing! The Trump Trumpeters will say exactly the opposite! 

Zuckerberg, a private individual, holds the power to choose the President of the United States, or doom the Prime Minister of Great Britain to helpless ignominy. That should frankly put skidmarks in your pants. Us social democrats call for a ‘state supported economy’ but our leaders are supported or stymied by an ugly looking geek in Northern California. Is that a good thing?

 

No answers here I’m afraid

A very good piece would come out with solutions. Weirdly for a reasoned rant about social media, I want your answers. What do you think? Should we start having weekly face to face meetings in a pub where you can’t get signal (I know a few)? Should we rebel against the Geek and start having face to face time? I suffer social anxiety that wrecks most opportunities to meet people! Perhaps I should get audiobooks on Marx and Engels! Is it a problem at all?

Or, the worst possible answer, do we have a brief argument about this on the DE forum (making money for the Geek) and forget about this blog…?

Rich Shrubb