Our social dilemma | Editorial

During the last few weeks, it has been heartbreaking to have multiple community members tell me they have been threatened and harassed over Facebook.

I am not anti-social media or anti-Facebook. In fact, thanks to Facebook, I was able to connect with two of my aunts who lived on the other side of the country before they passed away. Without it, we probably would not have gotten to know each other the way we did. It has also been lovely to discover what long-lost friends are up to.

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

Instead, people become riled up at the injustices they hear about. Unfortunately, individuals grab their cyber pitchforks before realizing the situation may be based on fiction, or at best half-truths. Studies have shown that social media thrives on drama because it hooks people in, 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, fearless in its drive to protect the vulnerable. I can see social media capitalizing on that compassion, stirring up divisions locally just as it has around the country and world.

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

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

The flip side of that coin is that social media is so prevalent now in our society, asking people to simply stay off it is not always as easy as that solution sounds., and upcoming generations may become increasingly dependent upon it.

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 primary. Especially for younger generations. And yet, in that world, anytime two people connect, the only way it’s financed is through a sneaky third person who’s paying to manipulate those two people. So we’ve created an entire global generation of people who were raised within a context with the very meaning of communication, the very meaning of culture is manipulation.”

But the world is not Mark Zuckerberg’s virtual reality yet. This community is not a game where we get to vote each other off the island. If it were, I doubt anyone would be left. Let’s make sure to put down our phones, resist the temptation to become keyboard warriors. Remember that while we will not always agree with our neighbors, they are our neighbors. With a population under 18,000, we will run into one another in the grocery store, the post office, walking our dogs on the beach and they have seen what we wrote. We may even see them picking our children up from school, and those children are watching us, paying attention to our behavior, our words. Let’s show them what respect and compassion truly mean.