Mark Zuckerberg is not to blame for social media, no matter what its long term effects or where in our society it all settles out. Social media was inevitable. People yearn to connect with others. It is one of the most basic human needs, so much so, that we often fail to see it in ourselves.
Think of a what happens when you hear a joke that makes you laugh, or see a movie that you like. What do you want to do next? You retell the joke, or rewatch the movie with someone else. But why? Is the joke funnier the second (or in my case, fifteenth) time around? Is the movie more enjoyable when you already know what is going to happen? Not at all.
But when the other person laughs, or reacts as you did to a story, you connect. You have something in common; you are sharing an experience. We all like that. We all need that.
Social media provides a new, broad reaching network where we can connect. Because of this, it has great value to us as a society. As we struggle to recognize that we are all responsible for each other, we need ways to assure that everyone can find connections. For some, social media provides a primary method for meeting that need. Is that wrong? To me, it doesn’t matter if it is right or wrong. These connections are necessary, and unless you have another solution, don’t deny anyone something that is working for them.
Our real struggle is sorting out the boundaries of this new environment. Because it can bring large numbers of people together, it has the potential to generate tremendous force. And like all powerful forces, it can be used in positive and negative ways. Even as it brings us together, it’s ability to amplify subtle differences in our points of view can be used by nefarious or outside forces to generate conflict that prevents us from uniting in our efforts at forward progress. We want to try to limit the negatives.
You should not – you cannot – remove social media from our world. But we need to recognize that it is not the place to attempt to logically approach the issues that face us as a community. For example, social media is not the venue for trials, for elections, or creating government policy. When I say that, I am not saying we remove the discussion of these things from social media. On the contrary: that would represent an unethical limit of freedom of speech. I am saying we take social media out of these important processes so that we can maximize their effectiveness. That is very, very different.
We should be able to discuss politicians on social media. But politicians have no business using social media for their own purposes. Remember, we make the rules. They don’t get to tell us what we can say or what we do, so long as we don’t infringe on our neighbor’s rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We, however, have every right to dictate their behavior, how they communicate, how they interact, what we expect from them. They work for us. If they don’t like the rules, they are free to go do something else.
Like connect with people on social media.