Why I won’t quit social media

Dried-up bright pink paint in a black container, because I like weird abstract organic looking stuff. ©careerusinterruptus

Look, I know better than most, that Facebook is fundamentally toxic.

Early in 2020 I read most of Democracy Hacked (Moore, 2018), an academic crossover book about the forces aligned against democracy; Facebook, Twitter, and Google each got their own chapters. (I stopped reading two-thirds of the way through, when COVID hit, because honestly Moore’s analysis was dire enough without a pandemic to ramp up all the processes he’d identified. It’s a terrifying read; highly recommend.) And given the site’s misogynistic origins, recent revelations that management refused to change its ways, despite knowing that it increases self harm and suicidal ideation in girls, is hardly surprising.

That said, I’m not prepared to abandon it, for a few reasons.

First, I’ve been lucky enough to find some terrific community groups. My G/2e parenting and homeschool groups are wonderful, deeply valued sources of support and information. I cannot imagine the kids or I would have survived, without that.

In fact, I’ve learned HEAPS about allsorts, which really suits my jill-of-all-trades brain. I belong to groups for raising mealworms, neurodiversity, chickens, gardening, preserving, astronomy, writing, electrical efficiency in the home, and homeschooling; I can ask a question and get specific, local answers far faster – and with less clutter – than if I had a book for each issue. Sure, sometimes the information is wrong, but the nice thing about a group is that incorrect info is usually corrected by other members, pretty speedily, and people often link to articles I couldn’t have found myself.

Thirdly, I value the friends I’ve made. I found a cousin (yes, really), made connections around Australia and in several other countries, and also maintained some friendships that would have otherwise fallen away. In my first year in the UK (1999) I taught two students who have since married, moved to Norway, and had children; recently the mum approached me about their parenting challenges because things I’ve posted demonstrated that I understood. I could share what I’ve learned and bring her into my communities; in turn, I’ve learned about wiring issues I hadn’t previously encountered as well as about the Norwegian system. Win, win!

Fourthly and, for me, crucially, facebook provides an ideal space for online activism that I can fit in around my other responsibilities. For a couple years now I’ve been an active member of the international I Am Here movement, which aims to make social media a safer space by providing compassionate, nuanced, fact-based commentary on news posts that attract hate. It’s a proven, effective strategy that can ‘turn’ comments on a post from horrible to tolerable, but even when that doesn’t happen, it demonstrates to others that there ARE decent folks in the world, folks who will stand up to bullies and who can disagree without resorting to ad-hominem attacks. The fact that I can do that standing in Kmart while the kids assess this season’s Lego offerings, is nothing short of miraculous.

I also engage in climate activism, political groups, and regular prodding of my Federal MP, who really needs to up her game, not only to retain her seat but more importantly, to make a difference in the world. I can donate, fundraise, raise awareness, and share a bad pun, over breakfast or while cooking dinner. I freaking LOVE THAT.

So here’s the thing: if we step away, we abandon social media platforms to the bullies and the corrupting forces that are quite actively seeking to destroy liberal democracy. That would be a shame, since the very things that make facebook such a stew of hate and disinformation, can also be used to make the world a better place.

No criticism for anyone who has ever stepped away because social media was damaging their mental health, or to avoid the time-suck. That’s just smart. Kudos to you for recognising it and looking after yourself. It is certainly possible to land in the quicksand, and we know that the algorithms will shove you in that direction. But with care and judgement, they can also bring you towards expertise, beauty, joy, community, and friends.

Writing the entire experience off wholesale as irredeemably ‘bad’, is just as foolish as those who write off all of science because of the atom bomb, or thalidomide. Yes, so far, they’ve both been tools of the patriarchy, but they are just tools, and ultimately their use is down to people. Us. They can be used badly or well; avoiding them not only doesn’t make it go away, it makes things worse for the people left behind. But the more of us who participate consciously, kindly, and respectfully, the better the experience is for everyone. Just like everything else in life.

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