OPINION

The Flatlander

Truth, Decency Still Matter

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At some point during the last year, we dedicated serious space on the Leader’s editorial page to bringing a clearer picture to what social media is, and what it is not. Maybe an editorial, maybe this very column space, maybe both, I don’t entirely recall.

Perhaps it’s time we revisit that topic. It seems things are getting more out of hand every day, and not just on some national level, either.

First, let’s look at some trends:

• 48 percent of the world’s population uses some form of social media every day.

•Facebook is the market leader with 68 percent of U.S. adults indicating they use the platform daily.

•Internationally, social media users spend 2.5 hours daily using some platform. This is staggering.

•73 percent of social media marketers and sales gurus believe some platforms are “very effective” in driving their bottom line.

•54 percent of social media “browsers” are researching products for purchase.

•49 percent of consumers depend on social media “influencers” for their purchases.

•From January 2017 to January 2019 the number of “stories” published on Instagram went from 150 million to 500 million.

All this to point to, and re-emphasize our message several months ago about the truth.

I recently spent some time reflecting on the major news events of my lifetime. Although I was only 3, I can think of no bigger story than Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the moon. It was a monumental achievement culminated by a decade of vision and planning, perhaps mankind’s finest achievement to date.

The second biggest story of my lifetime is the way these social media platforms have duped an entire population. It’s quite genius. Simultaneously, quite devastating.

Here’s what bothers me most on a personal level:

The current political culture combined with this seemingly abundant availability of free press i.e. freedom of expression, has raised the so-called “rights” of some as all important. And a good percentage of social media users seem to believe they can say anything, any time, about any one as an extension of their rights. To a great degree, the perceived issue of rights now surpasses any notion about the greater good.

I recently watched as a local social media user offered a harsh criticism of a local restaurant that opened only three days earlier. It was too expensive, too loud, too crowded, he said. It made me wonder if this fellow had ever launched a significant project or undertaking. Opening day for a restaurant that has hundreds of eager customers just waiting to get in the door is no easy task. It takes a while to get things lined out. Maybe you did have a less than exemplary experience in one of those first three days. So what? Does it really call for some public proclamation of your needs not being met? Maybe give all the people working their tails off a break and just stay quiet. Or maybe just try being a nice person.

Now, let’s revisit this issue of rights on social media for a moment. It’s summed up quickly.

You have none.

I refer you to the statistics above. Notice anything common throughout those bullet points?

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, none are tools designed for your free speech. They are data gathering monsters tracking your every click, your every maneuver from one screen to the next. Somewhere out there is a digital record of your social media habits that can predict your consumer habits to near 100 percent accuracy.

Yes, you get to express some thoughts on these tools, and that’s the genius of it all. But you’re just borrowing space on someone else’s platform. It’s like renting a house. You can probably paint the walls, but not without permission.

Again, you have NO rights on social media.

Here’s something else I see coming, and rightly so.

There is an abundance of information out there on these platforms. Everything from a calendar of events for local communities to expert tips on fishing to camera clubs to antique car enthusiasts. If you need some expertise, you can probably find it and you can furthermore surround yourself with people just like you if that’s your thing. But typically, with each of these groups comes something called the Facebook forum “administrator.” They are essentially the gatekeepers of what gets in the forum and what goes out. In this new world, it’s an assumed role not so much different from a television news producer or a newspaper editor, except for one important difference.
Editors and producers are trained, educated, and experienced in important issues like news judgement, objectivity, defamation, and libel law.

If you want the responsibility for disseminating the news, you’d better be ready to accept all the responsibility that comes with it.

Editors, producers, and other gatekeepers are just as subject to defamation laws as the person who makes the actual post. And it’s all fun and games until someone files a lawsuit. Think you’re exempt from all that on social media? Think again. It’s coming.

It’s simple really. Be nice. Be fair. And maybe even sometimes when you think you have an important opinion, just let it go. There are things far more important than exercising some “right” just because you can.

See you in next week’s newspaper.

(Steve Watkins is a reporter/columnist for the Stone County Leader. Write him at steve@stonecountyleader.com).

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