The Experiment

Sometime, I think maybe last year, I decided to take a break from social media. Well, not a complete break but a radical reduction in my usage. Facebook in particular. What once upon a time had been a bit of a mindless diversion that would end in a smile slowly morphed into something that had the opposite effect as the platforms begin to feel more like outrage machines. I think I’ve scribbled my thoughts down on this before. Or maybe not. Pretend I have.

Fast forward to the summer of this year. It’s no secret that I’m troubled with the current leadership of the country. I don’t like who we’ve become and decided part of that was on those, like me, who were fairly apathetic when it comes those we chose to represent us. I came to believe that the best way to change things would be from the ground up and so I paid much closer attention to down ballot races than I ever had before and voted for the first time in the primaries. At the time I didn’t even know who my state representatives were.

Anyway the point of all that is, in order to follow the campaigns, I had to be on social media. Initially I tried to limit that as much as possible to Twitter but most of the local candidates had a more active presence on Facebook than Twitter. I did post about that here in a sort of open letter to the candidates. Still there was no avoiding Facebook if I wanted to stay connected.

I had wrestled in the past how to react to posts that I disagreed with and especially those that were outright fabrications. I had tried for a long time, with varying degrees of success, to follow a personal rule to avoid political or religious talk. As time wore on and the polarization continued to grow that became harder to do and I struggled for a solution. I saw plenty of posts turn into arguments. And some people that would simply block those they didn’t agree with. But mostly I noticed that day by day people started to drift away. Eventually I decided that would be best for me as well.

While I was away I’d often wonder what could be done to help open people’s eyes to the tribalism that I feel is consuming us. How we could avoid the echo chambers that drive us further apart. If there was any way way to establish an organization that all people could turn to as an arbiter of truth. Things of this nature. I was flailing about for any straw to grasp. As I considered a return to Facebook I decided there was no magic bullet. But I also decided that I couldn’t just turn my back on people hope that things magically got better. I began to liken it to this: if I have a friend or family member talking up this amazing opportunity to get in on a deal which is clearly a Ponzi scheme do I smile and nod politely for fear of offending them? Do I pretend I didn’t hear and walk away? Or do I explain why this is a bad idea?

I decided to return with a new set of rules. I’d continue trying to avoid overt political or religious posts but whenever I happened upon posts that were clearly mischaracterizations or outright lies I’d try and provide accurate information and sources to back that up. And maybe, just maybe little by little people might become a bit more skeptical of their own sources.

Well of course that didn’t happen.

What’s worse, I think the FB algorithms took notice of the sort of posts I was commenting on and assumed I wanted to see lots more of them. So each day I was the one that was worn down little by little. I guess since a lot of the posts I saw were mostly about tearing people down it was hard to resist the urge to fight fire with fire and go on offense. Yesterday I allowed that to happen a little bit. Today I decided I don’t like where this is heading so it’s time for another break.

The hardest part of all this is that many of these people are family. We were all raised with similar values and somehow my interpretation of them is so different it makes me feel like a stranger among folks I’ve known my whole life. It’s a very lonely feeling. I’ve tried to understand and make myself understood but I’m just not able.

I should say before I wrap up that there are some that are sympathetic to my cause. If you happen to one of those I apologize. Hopefully I’ll return ready to fight the good fight again soon.