Saturday, August 11, 2012

Social media frustrates as well as enlightens

During the last decade or so, there can be no debating the impact of social media. Platforms like Facebook and Twitter have given us the ability to reach out to each other in ways that were not even imagined a generation ago.
While I am sure there can be a debate as to whether this is totally a good thing, it does provide us the opportunity. If I want to tell people that I had a grilled cheese sandwich for lunch, then theoretically I can let hundreds of my friends know that within seconds of it happening.
Though Facebook and Twitter are the hottest forms of social media right now, it manifests itself in many ways. These ways can include just about any forum that allows people to share information.  Any web site with a message board can host comments from people around the globe, and it allows people to cross paths that might not otherwise meet.
Personally, I do not use Twitter. I am sure it has merit, but it lacks appeal. Since I have a tendency to latch on to fads just as they are winding down, I may use it at some point after everybody has already moved on to the next big thing.
I do use Facebook. For the most part, it is an effective way to communicate to the people in my orbit. It has also provided me the opportunity to reconnect with people I had not spoken to in years. What could be wrong with that?
However, like most communication tools, Facebook has become a reservoir for misinformation and outright ignorance in some cases.
Do not get me wrong: I am grateful for the first amendment, and Facebook certainly is a great tool for free speech. The problem is that information that is presented on Facebook by many as fact often is way off base when it comes to accuracy.
In some respects, Facebook can be one big gossip chain where one person presents some incorrect information. Then, another person takes that incorrect information and passes it on to somebody else. And then the process repeats itself thousands of times until a whole lot of people get a whole lot of bad information.
This can happen on any topic. Politics can be the worst offender. I repeatedly see people present the positions of our elected officials incorrectly or taken out of context. This applies to people of both political parties. I know people mean well, but I wish we would be a little more careful about how we present the words of other people. It really is not too difficult to spend some time researching to see if what we are presenting is actually true or not.
Religion is another area. If I had a hundred dollars for every time I have seen people misrepresent what is in the Bible, I would be walking around with pockets stuffed with Benjamins. I do not claim to be a biblical scholar, but even a person of average intelligence like me can tell when somebody is completely off base. The internet is a notoriously difficult place to discuss religion (and politics, for that matter), and Facebook is another forum that demonstrates this.
I want to be clear that Facebook can be an effective forum for things like politics and religion. When Facebook is used responsibly, it can have a tremendous impact on people’s lives in a positive way.
Because of this, it is important to use the resource as responsibly as possible. The internet is the wild, wild west in many bad ways.
Let's not live down to the negative aspects of the internet. Let’s not abuse our freedom.

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