I have similar feelings about Facebook these days as I do about my local shopping mall. More and more it is full of things I really don't want to see or interact with - but at the same times there as a few things in there I really can't get anywhere else. Just as my local mall has a few stores that aren't anywhere else, so Facebook is the only place I can keep up with what various friends around the globe are up to, for example.
The cost though is beginning to outweigh the benefits. My experience is increasingly bewildering, a mash of vacuous messages, adverts for websites I have already been to, and music and imagery that makes me feel queasy. In the same way that advertising billboards have suddenly gone all 'ambient', Facebook is now a quivering mass of videos and gyrating gifs. The result is I am left with a cross between seasickness and vertigo.
The strangest recent phenomena though is the rise of people sharing facts that are... well, not facts. If Facebook is to be believed then Einstein wasn't actually one of the most brilliant scientific thinkers of the 20th century, he was in fact a cross between Marianne Williamson, Oprah and Winnie the Pooh. Intelligent people routinely send out quotes, conspiracies theories and stats that have been warped in a way that only the worst of the worst tabloid newspapers used to do. I imagine this is what the Victorian asylums felt like in London - lots of people shouting and yelling and waving things wildly at each other, all of it in English, but none of it making any real sense.
When something like the Paris atrocity happens it spirals out of control. The whole point of terrorism is to alarm us, and that alarm spreads like wildfire through social media. Everyone has an opinion, no one knows what is going on. People in remote places start yelling at each other. If ISIS's job is to disrupt the world then they are succeeding. Nine people, killing 140 has spread hate, fear and panic through six billion faster than any epidemic has ever travelled.
We live in a low trust world and social media was meant to bring us together. Instead it is dividing us. Many younger people have dived for the cover of Instagram as their parents are all over them on Facebook like a rash. Things are not much better over there though these days. Every time I logon I have some cute looking woman contacting me asking me to follow her with a video telling me she will make me a fortune or scantily clad pictures of her holding a can of soft drink. Block, block, block, is what I now spend half my time doing when I log on.
If there is one meme I'd really like to spread it is fact checking. If the promise of the Internet is to be fulfilled, that it allows us to connect with each other direct, not through the gauze of media conglomerates and state messaging, then we need to be responsible for what we post. If there is one practice I think we all need to take on it is taking a long deep breath before pressing share or like - and perhaps at least a cursory search using Google.
I have no idea the origins of this quote. When I Googled it is attributed to Buddha, various mystics, and a man called Steve from Stoke, among others. But really the source doesn't matter, what does is the words.
"Before you speak let your words pass through three gates:
Is it true, is it necessary, is it kind?"
These should be the rules of social media. Feel free to attribute them to me.