Our social dilemma | Editorial

Over the past few weeks, it has been heartbreaking to hear from several community members telling me that they have been threatened and harassed on Facebook.

I’m not anti-social media or anti-Facebook. Indeed, thanks to Facebook, I was able to get in touch with two of my aunts who lived on the other side of the country before their death. Without it, we probably wouldn’t have gotten to know each other the way we did. It was also nice to find out what long-lost friends are up to.

The internet and social media have given the world quick access to more information than ever before. Ironically, we are also less informed because few people check the stories they read or the social media posts they see.

Instead, people get angry at the injustices they hear about. Unfortunately, individuals catch their cyber pitchforks before realizing that the situation may be based on fiction, or half-truths at best. Studies have shown that social media thrives on drama because it hooks people, makes them want to engage more. In the 2020 documentary ‘The Social Dilemma‘, statistician Edward Tufte said, “There are only two industries that call their customers ‘users’: illegal drugs and software.

This community is passionate and fearless in its drive to protect the vulnerable. I can see social media capitalizing on that compassion, stoking divisions locally, just as it has done around the country and around the world.

According to San Juan County Sheriff Ron Krebs, the sheriff’s office has not received an abnormal number of reports of cyberbullying or death threats. However, these two things can be difficult to define. One person’s perception of a threat is another person’s bluster. If the situation escalates to the point where one party seeks an anti-harassment order, that too can be difficult to prove.

“Judges usually say, don’t go on Facebook,” he said.

The flip side is that social media is so pervasive now in our society, asking people to just stay away isn’t always as easy as that solution sounds, and future generations may become more and more dependent.

Again, in “The Social Dilemma,” computer scientist and virtual reality pioneer Jaron Lainer said, “We’ve created a world in which online connection has become paramount. Especially for the younger generations. And yet, in this world, whenever two people come online, the only way to get funding is through a sneaky third party who pays to manipulate those two people. So we have created a whole global generation of people who have been brought up in a context where the very meaning of communication, the very meaning of culture is manipulation.

But the world is not yet Mark Zuckerberg’s virtual reality. This community is not a game where we vote each other off the island. If so, I doubt anyone is left. Let’s make sure to put our phones down, resist the temptation to become keyboard warriors. Remember that while we may not always agree with our neighbours, they are our neighbours. With a population of less than 18,000, we bump into each other at the grocery store, the post office, walk our dogs on the beach, and they’ve seen what we wrote. We can even see them picking up our children from school, and these children are watching us, paying attention to our behavior, to our words. Let’s show them what respect and compassion really mean.