Boiled down to their essence, social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, etc. are communication tools. They enable anyone who has them to communicate in a way that used to be restricted to people who could afford to buy their own printing press, radio station or TV station. That’s pretty cool, but just like any other tool it can be dangerous for those who maybe shouldn’t be allowed to walk with sharp scissors. A couple of cases in point:
The former executive director of the South Carolina Republican Party has tweeted that Ebola victims should be euthanized to help prevent the spread of the disease. Here’s a couple of his tweets:
The second example is an image of Vladimir Putin that some conservatives are sharing on Facebook and suggesting that we Americans should follow his lead:
If you’d told me 20 years ago that Republicans would be looking for policy inspiration from a Russian autocrat I’d have said you were nuts. Ronald Reagan must be spinning in his grave.
The first example is obviously pretty extreme, but it’s a big deal because the person who posted it is prominent in his field and is seen to represent a large group of people. In the past, before he could express himself directly to so many people with just his two thumbs and a smart phone, he would have needed a witness to capture the moment and then share it via one of the traditional media outlets in order for anyone to really see it. In other words he likely would have had a media professional around to say, “Whoa, that’s some bat**** crazy stuff you’re spewing. Let’s not share that with the rest of the world.” Now he has all the tools he needs to reveal himself as a tool without anyone’s help.
The second example is a classic case of someone sharing what they think is an astute observation, no matter how half-witted it is, and then have it shared by like-minded people. This is interesting to me because it tends to say as much about the sharer as the creator and so over time people reveal their character and intellectual outlook by what they support and share. The only corollary I can think of from days gone by would be people posting signs in their yards or putting bumper stickers on their cars, and that by it’s very nature provides a much smaller window to the soul than do peoples’ social media activities.
Of course there’s a positive side to this. People can share inspiring messages, truly insightful observations, interesting facts, etc. on social media just as easily as they can negative/hateful thoughts, dumb ideas or historical inaccuracies. All-in-all it’s a net positive, especially when you consider that in addition to all the positive stuff we find via social media we also have a much more effective way to identify the tools in our midst.