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The digital isn’t magic. It isn’t mysterious. It’s regular human communication astride a new medium. There’s no need to make it more than it is. No need to lie or elaborate. Because in the digital, there’s wonder enough.
–Sean Michael Morris
This potentially rambling (but I have a hunch potentially enlightening) post is inspired by a comment Mike Caulfield wrote in response to a comment I wrote on his blog …anyway, where he compares the need for digital literacies in the age of fake news and Facebook…with driving and safety. What Mike says, I think, is that driving can cause death and one can try to reduce deaths from driving in two ways: train people to be better, more responsible drivers, or work on safer cars and roads. Obviously a combination is best. I am gonna take this analogy a little off on a tangent. I will explain in a minute.
This post also inspired by some recent discussion on Twitter around Facebook and what it means to stay or leave and how we should resist Facebook’s hegemony. (too many tweets and people involved to name, but initiated by Chris G, and includes Stephen Portell, Kate Bowles and Chuck Pearson among them).
So let me just say something about myself before I take Mike’s analogy into Facebook and all that
- I am a hypersocial person who is also an only child. This means I am really good at enjoying being alone, and simultaneously am energized by being with people. In my current personal circumstances with a young child (and previous circumstances of living abroad or being on maternity leave), social media is CENTRAL to my wellbeing. I understand this isn’t everyone’s situation
- I don’t drive in Egypt but I drove almost every day for many miles when I lived in Houston and loved it. Driving in Houston was necessary. Driving in Egypt would have more cons than pros imho so I don’t do it and instead use my commute time to work to get lots of reading and writing done (that’s 3 extra hours of my day that you now know the secret to)
- I have a blogpost for DML CENTRAL coming out soon entitled Fake News Isn’t Your Main Problem (i put the link in when it went live). I won’t repeat the arguments of it here. It was written just before xmas holidays so that’s why it’s not out yet
So here’s the way I am taking the driving analogy, ok? I will start w what I wrote to Mike as a comment on his blog
Egyptian women drive normally, but sometimes start late; patriarchal arguments against driving are “I trust you to drive well but don’t trust other people on the road”. Which is a fair argument, until you realize people who aren’t driving still trust someone else to drive FOR them, so that’s actually one more person you give control over to…so the argument breaks down and the solution would be to not go out at all (?). I went off on a tangent here but it might be a useful one. We don’t need to accept the premise of other people on the road, of course, or else we would all probably go crazy.
Now…what I am saying here is that whether or not you drive, there will be others on that road. If you aren’t driving, you are still at some risk of being run over as a pedestrian or of getting in an accident no matter who is driving. Correct? You may not be as responsible personally when you aren’t behind the wheel, granted. So you could avoid blame. But harm, no.
There are probably a range of reasons why people kill others while they’re in the driver seat. I am guessing they have names in laws, but range from intentional murder/assassination to irresponsible (drunk/tired driving) to medium skill level given tricky circumstances (e.g. someone jumps ahead of u and ur reflexes are too slow, or icy roads or such) to things really not within the driver’s control.
My Analogy w Digital Literacies and Facebook
Bear with me here and don’t blame Mike coz I just took his metaphor and used it for something else entirely.
I think Facebook has (as far as my knowledge goes) done some intentional harm in terms of fake news during US elections. For which it should be accountable and for which it should take responsibility.
I think there’s a lot of irresponsible behavior on Facebook by individuals. Posting things w/o checking its sources, posting mean things, bullying, creating negative social dynamics. There is also a lot of low-skill mistakes. Like not realizing even after you read a post that it’s not credible. Ok?
So now I want to say two things:
- Teaching people to detect fake news, focusing digital literacies on information literacies is important but only addresses the symptom. That will solve some problems of people who are normally responsible but didn’t have the skills
- The irresponsible people or those who intended harm won’t benefit from the digital literacies piece. Their problems are more deep-rooted
Facebook didn’t create people’s extreme political views, it didn’t create intolerance, or hatred. It gave people room to express them to wider audiences when before that, they were private or semi-private thoughts/expression. Because so much of it is public or as public as social media goes, people find echo chambers that help them believe they aren’t alone and helps them keep going, fuels them. Sometimes to dangerous levels like recruiting terrorists.
Social media didn’t create any of these monsters. These monsters would have found some other medium one way or the other.
And so back to driving. It kills people. But for the most part, it doesn’t kill people. It doesn’t exist to kill people. Neither car manufacturers nor government building roads want roads to kill people. And still, as a person driving a car you have choices. Which car to ride. Which road to take. How responsiby to drive and how to react to other drivers not within your control. So much is not within your control.
Facebook isn’t as innocent as the car/road manufacturers.
But we, as users of the Internet and social media have to be aware of how much is within our control and influence and how much is not.
For the most part, I don’t fool myself about Facebook. It’s got some sinister behavior w some really weird, probably sinister intentions. I used to be more naive and am still quite naive, but I am more careful w how I use Facebook. But Facebook, like driving, gets me from point A to point B. My Egyptian PLN isn’t (mostly) on Twitter. It’s on Facebook. If I left Facebook my entire PLN would be Western-based. I couldn’t have survived 2011 w/o Facebook. I may leave sometime. I’m not married to it, and Mastodon opened my mind to the idea of someday having social networks of our own, without algorithms and commercial/political interests of others. At least we could set our own. Someday.
But while we are on Facebook we have some amount of control. I (mostly) don’t check the algorthmically decided timeline, I just check my notifications (reverse chronological i presume). I do the same for Twitter.
I understand that exposure to headlines that are fake even if we don’t click on them may be subliminally influencing me. I get that. But the problem is much deeper.
People who want to leave Facebook because they don’t like what people are saying on it? Those people EXIST. Half of the US voted for Trump (even if he had lost, that statistic would have been similar). Same for Brexit.
The problems are deeper and they’re in our societies and they are HUMAN problems. They aren’t digital. It’s just that digital is the medium of our time, and so the shape of our human interactions are influenced by it. But the ugliness and ignorance are there and they are real, and it isn’t because of one guy called Zuckerberg.
During Egyptian political upheaval we had similar controversies on Facebook. People unfriended each other in droves. But you know what really matters? The conversation we can no longer have at dinner tables because people’s views are so divided and no one wants to listen to the other.
And I don’t want to lose sight of what Facebook currently does to help me connect with people. For the most part, I tolerate it because it has its pros. When I find alternatives or its cons drive me nuts enough, I will leave. Or they may kick me out like they did to others. You never know.
i have to go. This isn’t fully finished… But partway. Willing to listen to critique