Remember when you didn’t have to thank people for being willing to answer their phones? Daily attempts by robots to sell us things we never wanted and by scammers pretending to be our credit card providers or Social Security, Medicare, or IRS agents now make everyone think twice before picking up a phone, even if the illegally faked caller ID — which government won’t enforce — seems to be from a neighbor.
Remember when you actually looked forward to finding things in the mail dropped off at your front door? The postal service’s overly aggressive solicitation of junk mail and largely irrational fear of scofflaws who illegally allow dogs to run free ended that.
Faxes used to be important documents, not solicitations trying to defraud you. Email was about notes from coworkers, friends, and relatives, not a continual torrent of ads and threats from supposed hackers claiming to have pictures of you doing inappropriate things.
Go back long enough and you might recall how CB radio was a valuable travel companion until it was taken over by foul-mouthed, self-absorbed bullies speaking from their rear-ends not their mouths.
Welcome to Facebook 2020. It and its kindred media are rapidly proving to be more anti-social than social.
Forget the lofty goals of social media. If you wanted to invent a way for people to spread lies and practice bullying without repercussion you’d be hard-pressed to find a platform more conducive than Facebook.
Just ask Russia. Or any fringe politician. Or your neighborhood bully, who will eagerly use social media to spread negativity that he or she would be too cowardly to utter in face-to-face conversation because the comment would be shouted down as uneducated, ill-informed hate — the natural byproduct of a small, closed mind.
Last week, for example, we tried to use Facebook to ask a couple of simple questions: Did a sudden change in weather pose special child-care problems for working parents of children sent home from school early? Were county roads, as some had claimed, much more treacherous than federal highways because the county doesn’t treat with anti-freezing chemicals the way the state does?
What erupted was a torrent of venom from a handful of all-too-familiar snakes who object to anything and everything we write, even while proudly admitting — as only an ignorant, closed-minded person would — that they haven’t actually read it.
We finally pulled the plug on the cyber-bullying after a manager from a local fast-food restaurant urged using firearms to silence us and a para-educator contended, belying the most fundamental tenets of education, that no one should ever question anything.
We’re debating whether we’re going to continue allowing Facebook to post a handful of our headlines each week. It really needs to clean up its act.
But, of course, government won’t force it to, just as it won’t end robocalls, junk mail, and spam. Politicians are among the biggest misusers of anti-social media and all the other ways people can be deceived by half-truths that seek to enflame passions.
Even if they aren’t, they take money from people who pay to shove down our media various products and services that can’t prove they actually do anything or that work, according to the very brief and tiny text at the bottom of ads, only occasionally, with often serious side-effects in the process.
At least with TV you can zap the ads with a DVR, unless you’re stuck with a streaming service that allows you only the option of a mute button. Unless you do as schools do and try to totally control all messages by creating your own apps, trolls will find a way. And when they can’t, because someone has shut them out with a private app, good luck ever hearing about anything except what the powers-that-be want you to hear.
In the case of schools, that means we hear all the virtues of student athletes who win games, but good luck ever finding anything about the student athletes who work just as hard preparing but aren’t as successful on the court. George Orwell would be proud. The rest of us should be ashamed.
This far into an editorial in a newspaper you have paid to read, we are, of course, preaching to the choir. But it’s time for responsible citizens to rise up against the dull-witted, sharp-tongued trolls of the world and those who seek to control all information and go back to a having a democracy that depends not only on a free flow of information but also on society’s ability to shout down those whose ideas are born of ignorance and hate.
— ERIC MEYER