I first heard of Facebook around 10 years ago, when my sons were teens. Our family computer was in the living room, enabling us to keep a close eye on their usage of the wild, wild West that was (and is) the Internet.
Every now and then, while they were supposed to be doing homework, we would look up and see them on something called Facebook. It was new, and like most parents, I was suspicious of anything online.
“What are you doing?” I would ask in my best cranky dad voice. “It’s just Facebook,” my son would reply. “All my friends are on it.”
Indeed they were. Page after page, pictures of teens on the beach, in their cars and posing in front of bathroom mirrors. It seemed harmless enough, although it certainly used up a lot of time.
I would remind my sons they had work to do, and I would try to limit their time on Facebook. A year or two later, some of my adult friends asked me why I wasn’t on Facebook. “Isn’t it just for kids?” I’d ask. They would reply, “Not anymore! You should try it out. It’s fun!”
In early 2009, I jumped in. My friends were right. Before long, I had connected with folks I didn’t see very often, sharing photos and stories. Even better, I reconnected with co-workers and classmates I hadn’t seen in decades. We could comment on each other’s posts, and share updates on our families.
By 2011, I had published my first book, and Facebook was a great way to spread the word about it. I’ve made a lot of new friends via Facebook, and to this day, it’s nice to meet someone in person who had previously been an “online” friend.
While Facebook is still an efficient way to share life experiences, both happy and sad, it has also become troublesome in recent years. That was even before the recent headlines about privacy issues.
On any given day, my Facebook feed is half-filled with annoying ads, fake coupons, and images I would rather not see. We have learned that when you open any door, in real life or online, a scam artist will find a way to enter. Despite the frequently-stated efforts of those who claim to police Facebook, the site has become a breeding ground for rip-offs and conflict.
Our current political divide has found a home on social media. The ugly, noisy name-calling is hard to avoid, and is front and center on Facebook. In more innocent times, public political support was often limited to a campaign sign in someone’s front yard. Now, it’s in your face, on Facebook.
Although I doubt anyone has been convinced to switch their vote because of a Facebook post, that doesn’t keep your Uncle Silas from trying. Sadly, much of the information that is posted is wildly inaccurate. Even sadder, many people believe that if it is on the Internet, it is true.
Facebook also has me wondering: Whatever happened to civility? As a media person for the past few decades, I have fielded my share of complaints, as have the news outlets for which I have worked. Being human, we make mistakes. In the past, if we made a spelling error, or mispronounced a word, we might get a letter or phone call gently reminding us to make a correction, or brush up on our grammar skills.
Those days are long gone. Within moments of any miscue, an angry Facebook critic will pounce. “Hey idiot, learn how to spell!” they will write. Or, “Doesn’t that news girl know how to say something without stuttering?” Even better, “What was David Carroll thinking when he put on that tie? Is he colorblind, or just stupid?”
In all fairness, sometimes they have a valid beef. We should spell words correctly, reporters do occasionally stumble over their words, and I should never be allowed to coordinate an outfit on my own. (My wife usually handles this chore, but when she is not available, I’ve been known to mix plaids and stripes.)
Still, when did it become acceptable for people to openly lambaste others on a public forum? Most news reporters can easily be contacted via phone or email, and a gentle nudge is more effective than a loud insult.
Social media experts say that Facebook and other online forums have weakened the “evil media,” and given regular folks a stronger voice. Now, anyone can be a publisher, a journalist, or a commentator. Sean Hannity, Rachel Maddow and Rush Limbaugh may have a wider reach, but you and I can express our views too. Now that we have that power, let us agree to follow one basic rule of common courtesy: Don’t post anything on Facebook that you wouldn’t say to someone’s … face.
David Carroll is a Chattanooga, Tennessee-based reporter and columnist. His website is ChattanoogaRadioTV.com, and you may contact him at 900 Whitehall Road, Chattanooga, TN 37405 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @davidcarroll3.