Let’s start with full disclosure: I blog (which is a poncy way to say ‘I have a blog’), I have a Facebook (again, a ridiculous way to say ‘I use Facebook’), I have an Instagram (I actually think this is how everyone says this), I have two Twitters (one is for work; my students use Twitter for current events via KQED and it is a good format, and I have a personal account which is my only truly locked down and private outlet within the social media sphere), I used to have Myspace (two of those too – one for me and one I allowed students on – I do not do this with Facebook now, I just say no until students are out of school, then if they still care, I will accept their friend requests), and I have a Google+ but I have no idea what it is – although it seems public. Oh, I have a YouTube account too, but I think if you use gmail you have this because of the pervasive trend towards conglomeratization. I do not have a Linkedin – and I wish people would stop inviting me because it is a totally useless concept in my field. I do not have Flickr, DeviantArt, Tumblr (although I had a school one for a year), a Bebo (don’t even know what that is), and god help me I do.not.SnapChat.
Basically, I have a fairly visible digital footprint. Regardless of this, I still suck at social media. And I am totally fine with this because I think it is why I am able to use social media so prolifically without becoming angry and insane.
Here’s why: I do it wrong.
It turns out, I am just not really that “social”
I have always known this about blogging. I like to blog (look at me go!) but I don’t really read other blogs. I do occasionally come across blogs that I read because I am looking for something specific – like research for work or personal interests, and then I will read them, but in general, in the same way I look at my blog as a way to be hugely self-indulgent, I am not that interested in reading other people’s self indulgences. Unless they are about me or something uniquely related to me. The blogs I write that get attention get it from small niche populations. Thus it is no surprise that a blog I wrote about my cat remains to this day the blog that got the most hits out of anything I have ever done in any internet capacity. When I write about friends from home, my friends from home read it. When I write about being a teacher, my teacher friends read it. When I write about events and adventures, the people who shared the experiences read them. And there are a few exceptions here and there, a clever tag that gets others over to the page or something, but really the audience is terribly limited. And I am okay with that. I don’t interact with commenters (oh, I will get to them in a minute) and I don’t comment. I do very little to engender interaction or interest in my blog. I harbor no illusions that I am telling stories or illuminating ideas that no one has ever considered. In fact, mostly I feel like I am just adding validity to the reality that our shared human experience is far more similar than it is unique most of the time. And in its own way that is kind of cool.
I use Twitter for news. I love it and scroll through it regularly, occasionally retweet things, favorite things I want to come back to, and mostly leave it at that. I originally got it as a way to text for free from overseas, but now I use it primarily for information and as a way to measure the social temperature around said information. I like Twitter and it is very handy for my students to use as well.
I use Facebook (which I keep private, although I do not consider private in the way my personal Twitter is because there are people on my Facebook that I would not share certain things with because it would be weird and inappropriate) a lot. Although, it is getting harder to use it the way I would like. But again, it turns out I am not that “social” on FB. I post a lot of things. Things *I* think are interesting, important, funny, relevant, whatever. Again, I am under no illusion that these things are “interesting, important, funny, relevant, whatever” to other people. I am not posting for other people. I am posting for me. That is why I put the stuff on my Facebook page. If it is interesting to other people, that is cool – and I generally can predict with nearly perfect accuracy who will respond/comment/reply to the things I post. That is a benefit of having people who you actually know on your Facebook.
But I don’t get really interactive on other people’s Facebook pages. There are several reasons for this. First – Facebook is making this harder and harder as they only automatically show you the stuff posted by people you “interact” with regularly so it is easy to see how that circle gets inadvertantly smaller and smaller. Another reason I am not super active on Facebook is that there is a lot of stuff that people I really like post that I don’t wanna see. This does not mean I like them less, or do not want to be their friend in real life, or on the internets, it just means I am not into seeing stuff like that and so I don’t look at it. Going to the page of a person, like my friend D.M., a guy I have known since the first grade, and really like in a ton of ways, is not fun for me because we hold diametrically oppositional views on politics and a lot of social issues. Telling him how I disagree would be stupid – or having the audacity to tell him he is wrong or should not be posting something because it bothers me is just inappropriate. He is not posting that stuff for me – he is posting for him, so why do I want to go there and get all fired up – or worse, get involved in some comment battle where I am trying to convince someone that their opinion is “wrong”. Opinions – like feelings – cannot be wrong. They can be in disagreement with my opinions, and certainly wrong for me (or you), but telling someone their opinion is wrong is a waste of time, and really offensive. So instead I leave comments and “likes” on his Instagram where we have much more common ground.
I do believe there are times and places to help someone perhaps see that their opinion does not match data/history/science/facts or something, but I would suggest that would be like in a teaching situation, or as a parent, or an actual conversation among friends. Not really apropos for “social media.” I mean, it’s like the rules that govern polite conversation at dinner parties. People used to say ‘do not talk about politics and religion in mixed company.’ And this was not because people didn’t think about that stuff, or should not hold different opinions – it was because it was a “social” situation and being a dick by telling someone that their opinion is wrong is not very social. Remember when we were taught that if you didn’t have anything nice to say to not say anything at all? If social media is as it claims to be [social] – maybe that is a good rule…. I mean treat other people’s pages as their dinner party and use your own home(page) to say what you have to say. If people don’t want to hear your opinion they don’t have to come to your dinner party.
Facebook in all its deficiencies does allow for a couple great ways to deal with this. First, you can straight hide someone’s posts from your news feed (either by unfollowing them or selecting certain posts.) I have done this. A lot. If someone whose posts you enjoy following generally posts something you cannot deal with, you can had that specific post. A friend in HK who is super active in animal rights posted a super awful photo of an elephant, which I assume was attached to a story about how disgusting people are to elephants, and I could’t take it so I hid it, but not her. I hide all the silly fantasy sports stuff one of my former students posts – it is clutter and useless, but I love hearing about him and his family. I posted a misogynist rant that came out around the Isla Vista shooting on my page and one of my really good friends in HK who I discuss almost everything with, was like, ‘I can’t take this, I’m hiding it from my feed.’ And I totally get that. She didn’t feel the need to tell me how my posting it was wrong or that it was somehow not appropriate – she just said, I don’t want to look. That is what I would call solid use of the comments section.
Which brings me to the commenters. OH.MY.GOD. There is a seemingly growing population of people on the planet that have infinite amounts of time to dedicate to some sort of personal calling to comment on internet activity. These are trolls. I have had a few trolls. I know who one of them was, and I think I have finally blocked him enough that he cannot comment on my blog and Instagram (my only public pages) and his deal was just that he was (is?) a weird little man who thought I rebuffed him inappropriately. But it was still really annoying to get shitty comments from him. Another one I had was a former coworker who was convinced I was subliminally writing about him in my blog, which I was not, but his misunderstanding was illuminating. I am always surprised at how bad the (poor grammar and spelling aside) words of a total stranger or someone I could really not give two shits about can make me feel when it shows up on my stuff. Do the trolls have their own pages? Agendas? I have no idea, but they freaking should because that would be the right place to vent. Venting on the pages/posts/comments of total strangers just to spread vitriol is so bizarre. And it is like they get a certain kind of joy from just being awful.
Says a lot about society.
While I cannot even begin to grok why you would spend this sort of energy being a dick (and far worse) to total strangers, I am even more mystified by people who would do this to people they know – unless they just don’t want to be friends anymore, which is fine, but “breaking up” on Facebook/Instagram/blog seems pretty lame.
I am grateful for the ability to see what my friends – from near and far – are up to in their lives. It is really fun to see who has gone somewhere amazing, had a new baby, got a new job, and be able to be a spectator. I realize email could do the same thing, but that is a much different interface. Do I want a whole email every time for all these events? I think I prefer being able to look through the “news” feed. It works for me. I also have a growing appreciation for the vastly divergent attitudes and opinions my friends hold around religion, politics, social issues, and life in general. That I am friends with such a diverse group I think says a lot about me and my friends. I don’t need them to change for me, that they are who they are is what I love about them. And I do like having conversations with my friends about our thoughts, feelings, and opinions, but this does not happen in the comments. This happens in a pub in Hong Kong, at a secret diner party in SF, poolside in Vegas, on a phone call from Paris, or in email exchanges from Dubai.
In the end “social” suggests being with people and so while social media does endeavor to so this – it is not them same.
And I am okay with this.
The way I choose to use social media works for me. And if it doesn’t work for you, then there are lots of ways to handle that…. (like why are you reading this?) But whatever you do, if you want to remain hopeful for humanity and maintain your sanity… trust me on this: NEVER READ THE COMMENTS.
[First image from HuffPo, cartoon from unknown source.]