I am extremely thankful for many things. I’m thankful for my job, my family, my loved ones and my country. And last but certainly not least, I’m thankful for being a member of the last generation on Earth to reach adulthood without my teenage scraps, loves and mistakes being broadcast through any sort of social network, whether Instagram, Twitter, Facebook or Snapchat.
I can remember the first time I heard about social media. It was in 2005 and the social network that was all in the rage was called ‘Hi5’. It was something quite akin to Facebook actually. You could share pictures, reach out and ‘friend request’ someone and comment on people’s pictures.
For many of us it was our first taste of what the World Wide Web could do in terms of creating a virtual persona to go hand in hand with your everyday ‘normal’ persona. And boy did we love it.
Then came Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook, which totally obliterated Hi5. By the time we started getting Twitter profiles and tweeting away, there was almost no separation from the virtual and the real. And sadly, the ugliness of real life started filtering into this virtual world we’d created.
A few days ago I was notified of an Instagram profile that was the very definition of that ugliness. I will not reveal its name here, but what I can say is that it engaged in name-calling, libel and harassment. It gleefully called a few married men and women “whores”, leaked private conversations between couples and engaged in misogyny. It was foul; and the only reason that it could happen was because it’s curators and creators hid behind the cloak of anonymity that the Internet gave them.
Of course hundreds of people reported the profile to the Instagram moderators, saying that the profile was engaged in bullying. It was taken down in a jiffy, but guess what happened next? The people behind the profile tweaked its name, and then opened another account. And continued like nothing had happened.
When I was asked to opine about the Instragram profile, all I could say was that I wasn’t surprised.
For you see, I’m not a huge believer in the inherent goodness of human beings. To be honest, I believe that the only reason that we, humans, don’t act out even more than we do is because we fear public censure. We worry that if we show the ugliness in our hearts we’ll be shunned by the community around us. So, in order to remain within the group, we follow the group’s moral code.
However, this code is tossed outside the window when anonymity is guaranteed. And thankfully for some, and sadly for the rest of us, social media (which is a community without a morale code) allows for that kind of faceless name-calling.
And the worst thing is, there is absolutely nothing you and I can do about it. That is, unless you control just how much of your life is available online.
Which, I know, is something that we’re slowly being told is ‘uncool’. Artist Andy Warhol was prophetic when he said in 1988, “in the future everybody will be world famous for fifteen minutes”. He understood humanity’s love for attention and celebrity. Today, with a few choice tweets and a raunchy picture or two, everyone can become a social media celebrity.
The problem with celebrity is that while some people will love you with a passion, there will be others who dislike you with the very same fervor. It’s all different sides of the very same coin to be honest.
The only way to beat the trolls and those who would bully others behind anonymous accounts is to simply leave social media alright or to choose what to show to the world in a smarter way. I wish that it wasn’t so. I wish that we lived in a world where everyone was positive. Sadly we don’t.
So, you can either fully engage with the virtual world and become a celebrity of sorts (and take the insults and negativity) or you can say goodbye to social media and live without being insulted by the faceless masses. It’s one or the other. We cannot have our cake and eat it too.