The great Dave Winer has some observations about social media worth reading. Look for it under the headline “Twitter and Facebook Aren’t Working.” Key thought:
We may think we’re being informed by these great social media tools, but more likely we’re being fed. High fructose emotional rage medicine. Here’s the next thing to be angry about. And the next and the next and so on.
Social media are obviously more complicated than that, a point Winer makes himself, yet “something is seriously missing.” He’s right; I got a taste of it over the weekend while chasing an odd news story.
Short version: in the immediate aftermath of the shootings of two police officers in New York City, a young woman posted some angry, inflammatory anti-police comments. In her Facebook description, she lists herself as living in the Bronx and being from Harlem, but for some reason put down that she has a job with the Parks and Recreation Department in my small city, hundreds of miles from New York.
Now I have no idea why she did that. Maybe she just made it up, or maybe she had a connection here years ago, but the current head of Parks and Rec has been on the job for the last two and a half years and she had never heard of this young woman.
No matter. There was a rising wave of anger on Facebook directed at the Parks and Rec folks, demanding the young woman be chastised, then punished, then fired, then publicly humiliated. The language was not pretty. So far, so predictable. But here’s what threw me; even after the head of Parks and Rec responded both in emails and on FB, explaining that no one had heard of the young woman in question, that she wasn’t a city employee, that obviously no one approved of what the young woman (allegedly) said, some people still weren’t convinced. One poster wrote ‘Prove it.’ Another claimed a photo of the young woman in question showed her wearing a shirt that identified her as a city employee. (I looked at the photos on her FB page before it was pulled down, and there was no such thing.)
What I got from this was that the FB posters in question were at least as angry about the fact that their target wasn’t quite as she appeared, and so there wasn’t anything people here could do to smite her, as they were about the comments themselves. They had gotten far ahead of the facts – you just take what somebody puts on their FB page for granted? – and emotionally weren’t about to walk it back. And that’s the thing I find daunting about social media; it heats up easily, but doesn’t cool down nearly as well. After minor traffic accidents like the one described here, about the best you can hope for if you’re on the receiving end is a terse “thanks for checking it out” and it’s on to the next outrage.