I made a decision today that’s been a long time coming. I’m quitting Facebook.
It was not an easy decision, hence my hesitation and delay over the past couple of years. But last week the balance tipped, the straw broke the camel’s back, and I arrived at the end of my rope when Facebook was used by a white anti-immigrant terrorist to broadcast a live streamed video of mass murder in Christchurch, New Zealand.
The horror was designed specifically for an era that has married social media and racism — a massacre apparently motivated by white extremist hatred, streamed live on Facebook and calculated to go viral.
The shooting represented a staggering corruption of a form of communication, used innocently by millions, that promised to draw people together but has also helped pry them apart into warring camps. (Richard Pérez-Peña, New York Times)
I can no longer support or participate on a platform that is incapable of stopping the dissemination of such evil. And this is not the first occasion social media has been in the spotlight for its inability to police their platform, though it certainly marks a new and alarming low in graphic possibility.
Despite the horror of the New Zealand mass shooting spread through social media, it would be disingenuous for any social media outlet to describe it as unexpected. According to a 2017 BuzzFeed analysis, at least 45 instances of live-stream violence have occurred on Facebook Live since its debut in 2015. These include beatings, murders, rape and suicide. And just as the New Zealand gunman allegedly used social media to encourage more violence and spread racist propaganda, ISIS is far more sophisticated in its well-documented use of social media platforms as a successful tool of radicalization and recruitment. (Helen A.S. Popkin, Forbes)
So, amid privacy concerns, the propagation of fake news and misleading and deceptive content, the use of social media to unfairly influence political discourse and even elections, as well as the mind-boggling amount of sheer foolishness, narcissistic blather, and time-wasting distractions, now we are treated to the possibility that our eyes will not, cannot be shielded from gunmen with helmet cams mowing down people in cold blood.
I know, I know. This is not the whole story. There are many ways that I have benefited from social media. I have reconnected with old friends in meaningful ways. I keep up to date with my family. I get notified about events. I share and enjoy photography. I’ve been introduced to new articles, music, books, and products. I have had respectful discussions as well as fun banter with interesting people I don’t have the chance to engage face to face.
But something has to be done. And I cannot ignore this. One article described the Christchurch shooter as a person who “traveled the world, but lived on the internet.” Social media platforms like Facebook are responsible for providing refuge for people and groups like this who spread their hate and violence around the world.
I’ve decided to move out of the neighborhood.
It would be unfair to blame the internet for this. Motives are complex, lives are complicated, and we don’t yet know all the details about the shooting. Anti-Muslim violence is not an online phenomenon, and white nationalist hatred long predates 4Chan and Reddit.
But we do know that the design of internet platforms can create and reinforce extremist beliefs. Their recommendation algorithms often steer users toward edgier content, a loop that results in more time spent on the app, and more advertising revenue for the company. Their hate speech policies are weakly enforced. And their practices for removing graphic videos — like the ones that circulated on social media for hours after the Christchurch shooting, despite the companies’ attempts to remove them — are inconsistent at best. (Kevin Roose, New York Times)
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Note from CM: This leaving will be a process. I currently administrate an IM Facebook Group that is designed to give people a chance to interact outside the blog. I am working on a way to keep that available for the many people who may not share the decision I’m making and who want to continue the forum. Stay posted.