I’ve been getting the same sinking feeling, tweeting and reading between this social network and that.
I used to have a Twitter account with rather a lot of followers. It’s still there, but I don’t use it. Maybe it’s wrong of me not to remove it altogether.
I don’t know how many followers it has now. Probably not very many.
I don’t know about you but here in Britain, the news is pretty unremitting. If it’s not VIP paedophilia, it’s terrorism. If it’s not the evils of corporations, it’s news from beyond the notorious grave of the evils of nation-states.
I don’t know about you, but I find these things hard to deal with. They say that people with epilepsy – I have the condition, by the way – are more sensitive to visual stimuli. If they’re more sensitive to visual stimuli, why not other kinds as well?
It seems to me we have a serious problem. There’s a lot of information; little power. A lot of justice; little resource. A lot of wealth; limited access.
Knowledge is no longer power. Its value has been severely inflated: now everyone knows, it doesn’t matter we know; it doesn’t make any difference. The criminals amongst us, whether political or business, carry on without a care in the world. And those politicians and businesspeople who are anything but criminal get painted with the same broad brushstrokes.
Social networks are a fantastic invention.
But knowing so much about the dark things in life – and inevitably, bad news sells – can be terribly depressing; can make us incapable of seeing a way forwards.
That’s the problem of brushing shoulders with these dark things I mention. Inevitably, ultimately, they cloak us with their ways of being. We see and do like they see and do, or at the very least we remember how they see and do; and then it becomes so difficult to simultaneously remain aware of the very best of life whilst the horrors are served up on a virtual platter every day.
It’d be grand if social networks could make the world a better place. Yet if we don’t see the rubbish the bad are creating, or if we deliberately choose to look away in order to protect ourselves from feeling so down, how can we stop them – in the first place – from making the world a worse place?
How can we use social networks to create a better planet – even as we need to keep tabs on the awful planet it currently is?
It’s a process of cross-contamination, that is clear. But why is bad seemingly more powerful than good? My religion, from which I am firmly lapsed, taught me the opposite. And I suppose people like my mother would say the world is at is because those like myself have done precisely what they have done: turn away, if you like, from the straight and narrow.
I don’t believe, myself, this is the case.
I don’t think such a simplistic explanation is useful.
Yet the problem, an age-old problem, is simply magnified by our using of social networks.
If it was difficult enough to be good in medieval times, how much more difficult is it now when a billion tweets and likes prick our consciences – or not, as the case may be?
I’d like to think that not all is lost. Partly, because I think a possible solution exists. In fact, it’s one I’ve only started to take onboard recently.
In my old Twitter account, I think I only blocked once or twice in my life there. I never remember muting: neither retweets nor completely.
As my current account slowly seems to be accumulating the flotsam of miserable news I left behind me previously, I experimented the other day by simply muting the retweets of one of my followers. I didn’t break up completely – that seemed so harsh. I simply silenced part of their output. The relief was considerable; the need, in hindsight, patent.
I tried again today with another account: a similar degree of satisfaction.
I know what you’re thinking.
It’s not only passive-aggressive to do such stuff – it’s also quite cowardly.
Maybe it is.
I wonder, though, if it isn’t actually a white lie well worth telling.
Just because you can do it doesn’t mean you should; but just because it’s not the most honest procedure doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. It’s an example, if you like, of diplomacy in social networks. And the real world, without diplomacy, really wouldn’t get very far at all.
So if we really do want to use community tech to make the real and online worlds better places, why not develop tools that actively promote diplomatic behaviours? Consciously implement protective measures which, without being patently rompedoras, do break up the kind of feelings which the unremitting news I mention is once again producing in my sensitive soul.
At least occasionally.
Why do we have to be full-on in expressing our opinions? Wouldn’t it be possible, for example, to program an anti-flamewar tool – an anti-trolling filter, if you like – which detected keywords in any particular exchange and actually made continued tweeting or engagement physically impossible for, say, ten or twenty seconds?
Or, for the worst offenders, a day?
If necessary …
Like banning someone temporarily from a videogame for not complying with minimum rules of engagement.
Lots of objections. From data protection to freedom of expression.
But I’d only be suggesting a very short pause. If verbal violence was the consensual weapon of choice, it could then proceed as always.
The anti-flamewar tool, we could call it. The virtual equivalent of breaking off diplomatic relations.
So what do you think? Do we now … well … are we at that point where we literally need to engineer tactfulness?