Facebook and Our Emotionally-Charged Nation

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I named this blog “My Tangled String” because that image is representative of what’s going on inside my head. I use this space to unravel those thoughts. Lately, however, I haven’t been able to successfully find a lose end on which I can begin tugging. It’s cliche to say it’s this political climate. Sure I’m disturbed by it, but I feel like it’s more than that. It’s related, sure, but different. There have been changes in the way we communicate with and relate to each other, as people, and I’m not sure we can blame all of that one two individuals running for president.

Nowadays we are exposed to so much information – and so much bad information. There is a pervasive mantra that the mainstream media can’t be trusted, and yet, where do we find news? In this time in the the world we have access to more news and opinions than ever before, and yet, how do we weed through it? My fear is that, as a whole, we aren’t doing a very good job. We’re sharing things on social media without fact-checking and then, what’s worse, is we believe these faux news stories. This is the age of the headline. Write a catchy headline, and people will share it. We aren’t reading; we are trusting the headlines. We aren’t looking at the source or the dates; we just click “share”.

And I don’t mean to say we are all dummies. I feels like we’ve become a society that acts on our emotions, and this makes sense because we are inundated by headlines, videos, and posts that are designed purely to pull, no yank, at our heartstrings. Crime rates are down, way down, nation-wide. That’s a fact, and yet, the rhetoric of today has many Americans feeling afraid. In fact, I just heard a man being interviewed on NPR say, “you go to a movie theater; you’re likely to get shot. You visit a big city; you’re likely to get shot.” It’s no wonder a person might feel this way. Scroll your Facebook feed and it’s inundated with videos and news of horrible accidents, murders, robberies, and assaults. Now, statistically, these violent crimes are down; however, our exposure to tragedy, is way, way up.

Think back to when you were in high school (I’m assuming many of you are pre-Facebook age, ha!). Pre-facebook we knew what was on the local and nightly news. Notable crimes made newspapers and magazines, but not at the rate with which we are exposed to news stories today. The fodder of local news is now national news. A singular person’s bad experience at Target becomes the rallying call of shoppers everywhere. All of these things accumulate in our guts, this is why we feel emotionally-charged all of the time. Just in preparation for this post, I kept tabs on some of the stories that rolled through my news feed in the last day or two and by far the most disturbing, alarmist headline I read was, “With tears overflowing, this mother tries to re-attach her child’s decapitated head”. These are things I never click on, but I did, for the sake of this post. It led me to a short article written by an ambulance driver about an accident he was called to that had been caused by a drunk driver. In the accident, the two children in the backseat did not survive. The story was not graphic at all and the point of the piece was really to point out that there are innocent victims when you choose to drink and drive. The headline was obviously clickbait and, even though I agreed with the anti-drunk driving message, I wasn’t sure the whole thing was an effective strategy. Nonetheless, we scroll, day by day, through our feeds exposing our minds and our psyches to these devastating and disturbing messages. 

And then we get distracted. We remain subtly emotionally charged and then something comes up, and it causes an explosion. Colin Kaepernick takes a knee. Starbucks releases a new logo on their cup. A gorilla is killed to save a child’s life. And suddenly, we funnel our fear, anger, and frustration towards these symbols because it is easier to fight about the National Anthem or a gorilla than it is to ask the really tough questions. It’s easier to be angry at a Black Lives Matter crowd when they become destructive than it is to ask the real questions about race and equality in our country and why the group is so angry and frustrated. It’s easier to argue about what the National Anthem really means than it is to evaluate whether or not our country really does offer equal opportunity for all. Facebook threads have become a battleground, yet the opponents are our friends and family. Almost daily someone on my Facebook feed announces that he or she will be unfriending or unfollowing those with opposite and obnoxious opinions. Daily I read arguments that turn nasty in just two or three exchanges. And the thing is, if you’re connected on Facebook then you are friends, family, or acquaintances in some way.  If we are unable to be respectful of our own friends and family, then what hope does this nation have?7969003a49be87b104b5afcfbc5b4afb

And just as we had worked ourselves into a frenzy, along came this election cycle. We, as a nation, are questioning the business-as-usual democratic process, which is great, but we seem to have lost the ability to do so with any sort of intellectual capacity. I do believe Donald Trump has stirred up a lot of anger and fear, but he’s not the cause of it. He has simply coaxed to the surface that dark reality that our country still has a lot of work to do. In the few short months he has had access to microphones and the media, he has capitalized on these feelings we’re harboring of fear and anger and he’s made it okay for us to act on them.

Now I don’t have any answers and I also have a lot more to say. This is only a start. However, I don’t know how to say the rest. I don’t know what can be done and I don’t know who (if anyone) can do it. I do know that things will absolutely get worse if we cannot come together as a nation and own up to our flaws. We have a serious racism problem. We might have legalized gay marriage, but we have a long ways to go towards gender and sexual equality. We absolutely must address poverty. We must fund education. These are issues that we must come together on for the future of this country.

Maybe an elected official is not the answer. Maybe that answer is each one of us in our everyday lives, every day. Here are some simple places to start:

  • Fact check the articles you share on Facebook. Think that’s time consuming? Then post less.
  • READ. And I’m not just saying this because I’m an English teacher. READ the articles you post. READ the articles your friends post. Go out into the web and find some interesting news sites and then READ. A great place to start is Flipboard.com. You can set up your interests and you’ll get daily articles to peruse. Maybe if we all start reading more, journalists will stop using such ridiculous headlines!
  • Remember your manners. Sure your comment feels like a body-less entity, but it is attached to you and it is directed towards another human being. Engage in intellectual debate, rather than name-calling and insulting.
  • Ask questions. Recently I had drinks with a high school friend. She’s made a career in the military and I’m a shameless pacifist. However, I had the most enjoyable evening asking her thoughts about foreign policy and gun control. She has knowledge and experience in these areas. I can and should listen to her experience. She and I don’t have to agree, but we can absolutely share our experiences with each other.
  • Stop focusing on yourself. What if the point of Facebook was to connect and converse rather than a place to project your highlight reel? What if you spent less time declaring your own opinions and more time asking other people about theirs?

On the one hand, I feel at a loss for words and on the other hand, here I am 1300 words later. I have to go to work again tomorrow and look nearly 120 15-year-olds in the eyes and prepare them for their futures. All I can do, so that I can sleep at night, is try to encourage deep thinking, critical questioning, and compassionate behavior. Because maybe, just maybe, those things will help turn our country around.

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