In my blog on loneliness, I made mention of social media. Today, we are hearing of
its role in aggravating the tragic suicide of a fourteen-year-old girl and the
devastating effect that her parents believe it has had. An apology for its influence
has been issued and there is some noise being made about ‘moderation’ and
‘reform’. Two weeks from now, it is highly likely that the story will be old news to all
but the girl’s parents and other close family members who will carry their
unimaginable pain and loss forever. Social media will continue and, in a few weeks
or months, another similar story will emerge.
Nothing about social media will change in any meaningful way, however, because
we don’t want it to.
To be clear, in the context of this piece, I use ‘we’ in the fullest sense of community and the individual responsibility each of us has towards its healthy, moral
The explosion of social media over the past twenty years has been hailed as the
latest miracle of our age: there are those who consider it the greatest miracle of
any age. It is considered by many to have enhanced democracy, to have given a
voice to the voiceless, to have empowered the powerless, to be the greatest global
equaliser of all time. All of this is probably true. Certainly, it has transformed
communication and lifestyles beyond anything that might have been imagined once
upon a time in the ‘old days.’ But at what cost?
We all have the wherewithal at our fingertips to become celebrities now. With the
power of social media we can be armchair politicians, judges, journalists,
revolutionaries, influencers. We have the power to say exactly what we want to say
to whomever we want to say it, regardless of the consequences, oblivious to the
effects our thoughts or actions can – and too often do – have on our fellow human
beings. We have the power to utter accuracies and inaccuracies alike; criticism or
compliment; truth or lies.
I cannot help but doubt if any one of us truly understands the awesome responsibilities that must, by definition, accompany such unbridled and unregulated powers. I am even more dubious that, once we consider this, we would stop wielding that power until we do truly understand it.
Most of us would not wield an axe in private or public without taking account of
the safety of others around us. It would be irresponsible and dangerous. Some would
but there are laws to stop them. Misusing the power bestowed upon us by social
media can be just as irresponsible and dangerous, often in ways of which we are
unaware. Giving it enough thought, we might conclude that it can be even more
dangerous. Because we can’t see our victims, we don’t need to care about them. We
can even tell ourselves they don’t exist.
Let’s not imagine for a single second it is the corporate money-making machines
and the way they shrug their shoulders with scripted platitudes that are causing the
problem. They are the symptomatic opportunists but without our blind, lazy, careless
and self-obsessed collusion, they would be looking for alternative money-makers in
the click of a mouse. That is the real power we have.
While we might all-too-readily agree upon the importance of this issue, it is an
uncomfortable truth that we don’t care enough to do something about it because that
would mean fundamentally changing our behaviour. Sadly, it seems that we are too
much in love with ourselves - or do not love ourselves enough - to do that. So,
instead we choose to believe that it doesn’t apply to us. This, of course, means that
we are the biggest part of the problem, if not the very cause.