Like a lot of you, I have a love-hate relationship with social media — Instagram, Twitter, but mostly Facebook, which is the 900-pound gorilla of social media. Just when I think, hope, that Facebook has peaked and I can leave this party sooner rather than later, I see the referral traffic from Facebook for the publication I work for has only grown. For many people, Facebook is the main portal to the internet, how they get their news, how they communicate with friends far and near, an ever-changing TV channel tuned to You, starring Your Friends, reflecting Your Excellent Opinions. In my business, you can’t ignore that.
Things I love: Keeping up with all your vacations, meals, children, sunsets, etc. I genuinely enjoy these, because you people live lives far better and more fun than mine.
Things I hate: Seeing how the ever-running Facebook newscast of events like Friday’s go, because people? Y’all suck as editors. When bombs explode, when many people die, when we are shocked by breaking news, there seems to be a way these things unfold.
First, there’s the great Profile Pic Transformation. Once these were grassroots efforts, now they’re one-click deals offered by Facebook. Change your profile picture to the French tricolor. Change your profile pic to the gay-rights rainbow. Change your profile pic green (I think that was for the Arab spring). Or find an image of your own and change it to that. Why? To “support” the French, because apparently without this gesture, they might think the whole world is yawning over a rock club stacked deep with corpses. They might feel, y’know, unsupported.
Then the memes arrive, the quotes and jokes and zingers rendered in the display-size fonts, maybe with photos, suitable for sharing on your Facebook wall. Because my friend circle is lefty-heavy, I see these most often; they come from groups like Occupy Democrats and so forth, but I see them on the other side, too, from Tea Party Patriots, a group with an apparently limitless supply of eagle photos, always combined with their equally limitless supply of flag photos.
Then the inevitable grief-shaming starts. You can’t feel X about Y unless you also feel X about Z. It is accompanied by the bullshit, the clickbait stories that get hastily thrown up and turn out to be utterly wrong, but they’re satisfactory to read in some way: The refugee camp at Calais is burning, the Eiffel Tower has gone dark, etc., none of which happened. I used to make it a point to fact-check “news” stories people post that are total crapola, but stopped when most people either shrugged or otherwise said, “Eh, it’s still a good story.” And that is how Mitch Albom continues to thrive, year after year.
I believe facts matter, that emotions may be part of a story but should never be the whole part; there’s a reason the “how do you feel” question is the ultimate mocking reflection of (especially TV) clueless news gathering. But apparently I’m in a minority here.
But then, always, comes a story like this: A “mystery pianist” showed up at the site of the rock-club massacre to play John Lennon’s “Imagine.” Because isn’t that what the world needs now? To sit and imagine a world that not only will never come to pass, but probably shouldn’t, because what kind of world would it be without countries, religion, greed, hunger, the ideas of heaven and hell? I’ll tell you: Boring. Go get a lobotomy if that’s the world you really want, but I prefer the what’s-around-the-corner craziness of reality. But check out that pianist, or rather, who’s closest to him — photographers with expensive cameras, i.e, professionals. Behind them, the phones-held-high ranks of the hoi polloi, doubtless thinking, I can’t wait to post this on Facebook.
I don’t want to be cruel here. I know people do a lot of these things because they feel they have to do something, and sometimes this is all there is for an average person to do. For much of my career, when terrible news happens, I’ve been called to work. I’ve spent hours in newsrooms while terrible news clips played over and over on the TVs, and all around were editors and reporters, working the phones, tearing up pages, subbing in new photos and headlines. Action is a useful way to deal with the shock of shocking events, and getting a decent quote from some Mideast specialist to throw into a story about to leave the floor feels more useful than hitting a Share button.
But the term “slacktivism” exists for a reason, too. Hey, I support the French, too. (I better; I drink enough of their damn wine.) France, tell me what you need from me and I’ll do it if I can. I bet you need more than my face under the tricolor, but if that’s what you want, OK, sure. On the whole, though, I bet you’d rather I open another bottle of wine. Keep the economy going.
Disclaimer: If you did the French-flag thing to your Facebook profile picture this weekend, of course I’m not talking about you. You are an angel.
I’d give you some bloggage, but there is so, so much to read at the moment, and many of you have been posting all weekend in the comments of the last post.
Don’t miss Charles Pierce, certainly.
When 9/11 happened, I said that it took some real balls to climb upon a pile of 3,000 corpses to flog your unrelated political opinions, but since then it’s a fairly regular occurrence, as Frank Bruni points out.
Not Paris-related, but something I meant to post last week but neglected to, in my fog of late-week fatigue: A look back at a 1988 Free Press profile of then-unknown Ben Carson. With links to the original piece. Enjoy.
And let’s hope for a less Facebook-worthy week, shall we?