We The People

People

 

Imagine a school playground thirty years ago. A girl in a white blouse tucked into a maroon skirt, shares an opinion with four others dressed like her. One of them starts to make fun of her accent, mimicking her speech. The others laugh and join in. The girl soon realizes that raising her voice to defend herself prolongs the caricature. She stomps off to a corner. When they walk down the corridor to class, she lingers a few paces behind. Her classmates are still giggling and acting as they enter the classroom. They incite the whole class to uproarious laughter.

Fast-forward to today. Same incident, only that one kid would have recorded it with her smart phone and then shared it on social media. This time, as the girl walks down the corridor, there’s more laughter and pointing as students look down at their phones and up at her. She would eventually watch the video and her sympathisers would assure her it isn’t that bad. Compelled by curiosity, she would read comment after comment and die a second death.

Humans are the common denominator in both stories. In a previous post, I suggested that maybe technology is neutral; it just amplifies who we already are. There are humans behind the inanimate internet. Give a fool money and you magnify his ability to do foolish things, but money isn’t the real problem. The internet can provide a breeding ground for our worst impulses to flourish.

In his 2015 TED Talk, Jon Ronson begins by pointing out, “In the early days of Twitter . . . voiceless people realized that they had a voice, and it was powerful and eloquent.” He then tells how people used their power to effect change, saying, “This was like the democratization of justice. Hierarchies were being leveled out. We were going to do things better.”

However, the major part of his talk centres on our own misuse of privilege, the opposite of democracy. He traces how one ill-advised tweet by Justine Sacco, a former New York PR officer with 170 Twitter followers, incited a Twitter storm that not only made her the worldwide number one trending topic on Twitter, but also cost her, her job. His talk is titled, How One Tweet Can Ruin Your Life.  

Sacco’s story isn’t new to me. But, Ronson’s story telling made me uncomfortably aware of how gleefully we applaud another’s fall. According to Ronson, our desire to be seen to be compassionate is what led us to commit this profoundly un-compassionate act. Although I did not participate in the Sacco mob action, there was no moral pump fisting from me. I could picture myself in another time and setting, in a white blouse and maroon skirt.

Social media is now and the future. It is the platform where I share my thoughts with the world and interact with a wide circle of friends and acquaintances. Because the rules of engagement continue to evolve, talks like Jon Ronson’s hold my interest. Kudos to those raising their voices against social media shaming and calling for better internet policing. But who is going to police the place where it all begins, that is, the human heart?

I share details about Ronson’s talk and other innocuous social media faux pas with a friend. She says, “You see, that’s why I’m not on Twitter and hardly do Facebook.” I nod but after she leaves, I think about how Ronson concludes his talk, “The great thing about social media was how it gave a voice to voiceless people, but we’re now creating a surveillance society, where the smartest way to survive is to go back to being voiceless.”

Surely, abandoning social media isn’t the answer?

 

©Timi Yeseibo 2015

Jon Ronson’s TED talk is shy of 18 minutes. If you’re reading this, you do social media and listening to it is worth your time.

 

 

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Timi Yeseibo and livelytwist.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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51 thoughts on “We The People

  1. Thought provoking piece.Here is my thought that you provoked: No, We cannot abandon the social media platform. We have to recognize the danger we have in our hands and be respectful of the power and potential for good and evil we hold. Much like Prometheus who stole fire from the gods and gave it to man he also caused hope to live in the hearts of man that this gift would not be abused we must be careful with the powerful tool technology has given us and have hope in our hearts that we do not incinerate out selves from getting too close to the fire,

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Benn for sharing. I like what you say about not abandoning social media, but recognizing its potential for good and evil because of the way we use it. I imagine that as TV gained more and more influence as a means of communication, similar discussions were held in that era.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I agree not bring voiceless is important but I enjoy WordPress and have my blog “feed” into Linked In. No FB and Twitter for me. I also feel sharing photos is going to eventually create crimes against kids and families. Shows like CSI Cyber and Criminal Minds already include fictionalized crimes. My kids and grandies won’t be stalked due to my need to show them off. I feel connected thru phone and in person contacts now. Don’t I sound like a grandma? 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Indeed Robin, the disadvantages and repercussions associated with sharing on social media are still being investigated. We keep learning new rules of engagement and how to be safe.

      Facebook, Twitter, etc, are here to stay. A new generation doesn’t remember what it was like without the internet …

      @grandma, you sound like someone who cares for and is protective of her family. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I don’t do Twitter nor facebook. I only used twitter to promote my partner’s business a few years ago.

    Having a blog is enough for me. thx for the video. I did watch it.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Jean, thanks for watching the video.
      @Having a blog is enough for me, you’ve set your boundaries and you’re comfortable with them. Great. These new communication tools keep gaining traction….

      Like

  4. I saw Ronson’s TED Talk. I had never heard of Justine Sacco until that talk. So I read an article online. Oh my.
    I try to limit my time on social media. Many outlets are a blessing and a curse. While I can catch up on the latest photos of friends, some of the nasty comments made by people once more drive me away from media I enjoy (YouTube, Twitter).

    Like

    1. People have made similar jokes like Justine Sacco and lived without persecution.

      It’s instructive that Ronson notes, ‘Justine was really uniting a lot of disparate groups that night, from philanthropists to “rape the bitch.”‘ We did nothing about trolls who were inappropriately destroying Justine.

      @blessing and curse, so it seems. Becoming aware and talking about these things are steps in the right direction, I hope. Thanks!

      Like

  5. Sure, abandoning social media isn’t gonna solve the problem. It’s only amplifying the state of the human hearts spread around the globe. The antidote just as you suggested is to have a means to police the heart itself. But is that possible?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Social media can be a powerful medium for good. We shouldn’t let ourselves be ‘bullied’ out.
      Is it possible to police the human heart? Hmmm… we can even bury our consciences. A new heart, maybe?

      Liked by 1 person

  6. You nailed it in dredging up the bloody human heart in all this. In all conflict, it is not the situation or the bad driver who came at me, which spouse didn’t do which chore or how little I slept. It is our heart. The fiercest battleground, as I’ve said. It is also a worthwhile examination of the question of control. We can accomplish a great deal out here, raise our voice and stake our claim. But we have no control over who will hear us and shout profanities.

    Like

    1. Lol@ bloody human heart… only because of the imagery it evokes in me 🙂

      Sometimes it’s easier to look outward than inward. But inward we must.

      @control, I think that because of the interactive nature of social media, people can give feedback, influence public opinion, and force change. This is powerful and useful when harnessed for good.
      Someone said power corrupts … I guess that’s what Ronson is decrying- the indiscriminate use of our power…
      Ronson suggests that if more people stand up, perhaps we can drown out the profanities… but standing up is risky too.

      Like

  7. Have you listened to Monica Lewinsky’s TED talk on shame? You should. It is right along the lines of what you are sharing here and what Jon Ronson says, but with a deeply personal slant.

    I agree with you, we the voice behind the Internet, of course, social media. I think like any tool it can be used for and against the furthering of humanity and it seems we still need to do a lot of growing up. It’s interesting because we have all this amazing technology at our disposal, but when it comes to basic needs and social problems, like just treating each other with compassion, we’re still in the dark ages.

    That being said, we are progessing, even though it sometimes doesn’t feel like it.

    Like

  8. Wow. It’s been a while. Different look. Powerful quote.

    I read an article a while back on the issue of ‘crowd shaming’ – the writer pointed out that this was nothing new just transference from physical reality to virtual reality which may or may not have consequences back in the physical.

    It’s an interesting and relevant issue.

    Social media has its good and bad sides. I personally try to review how and why I use it.

    Like

    1. Hi Tony, yeah, it didn’t start today and it’s something we’re going to keep talking about. We should keep talking about ….
      For victims whose stories went global, they acquire acquire a notoriety that follows them to the grave as it were. Even more painful when the victim wasn’t even seeking fame.

      Like

  9. When what I saw on FaceBook and Twitter started to taint my perception of people and situations. I knew it was time to stop.

    When I started to orchestrate events in my life to make for an interesting timeline update and appear cooler than I really am, I knew it was time to stop.

    When I would judge people based on what I saw them post on social media, I knew it was time to stop.

    When I woke up in the morning and the first thing I did was to reach for my phone to check on what ‘I missed’, I knew it was time to stop.

    When I would secretly find joy in the not-so-good fortune of someone I didn’t care much for, I knew it was time to stop.

    When a moron who happened to be around my brother-in-law when he had a heart attack and died, thought it was a good idea to post the tragedy on his timeline before the body left the scene of the incident, I DEFINITELY KNEW IT WAS TIME TO STOP.

    And I did.

    While I agree that Technology isn’t the problem and it does indeed have its good sides, I did not like the ugly it brought out in me. So now I reserve the right to control how much of its ‘freedom’ is really good for me. It’s been refreshing being cut off. Being ‘voiceless’ does have its perks. Lol

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m sorry to hear that it seems someone wanted to capitalize on your family’s loss using social media. Good for you that you have established boundaries where social media is concerned- it seems to be working for you.

      I’m glad that we aren’t all ‘voiceless’ because in 2015, 7 out of the 10 largest populations in the world are on social media. Facebook is number 1 and Twitter, number 10. We need good strong voices out there too.

      Like

      1. @Holistic Wayfarer, Lolol for real! Lets just say I choose where my ‘voice’ goes. Maybe I’m a snob? Do I want to take my voice to the ‘ghettos’ and try to reason with riff raffs who just want to indulge in virtual shaming at its worst? Or do I want to walk into a civilized and decent location like LivelyTwist or Holistic Wayfarer(wink wink) and engage in adult educated conversations where we can disagree without being petty and ugly about it? The latter choice is much better wouldn’t you say? 😉

        Liked by 2 people

  10. Hello Timi,

    Misery loves company, add anonymity to the equation and a monster is created. The venom spewed on some social media platforms is shocking to say the least.

    Nonetheless, I am thankful for the outlet that social media has given me, I am thankful for my audience, and I am thankful for the digital bond with my virtual friends.

    Two sides to a coin, I suppose, but sometimes, it seems like Social Media slyly says “Heads, I win; Tails you lose” 😀

    Have a nice week!

    Like

  11. “The great thing about social media was how it gave a voice to voiceless people, but we’re now creating a surveillance society, where the smartest way to survive is to go back to being voiceless.”

    Had to delete my Facebook account some days back when someone who hadn’t picked up the phone to call me in over 2 years, called my mum and after a rather long conversation, said and I quote “I don’t have to ask after Ochuko, he’s always on Facebook”

    In my mind, I was Asking myself, when did I go on Facebook that someone would say I was always on Facebook. I’d been wanting to delete my Facebook account for quite a while, but that was just the little push I needed to fall off the ledge.

    Ok, mini rant aside, abandoning social media isn’t the answer, but I wouldn’t lie, you tend to see life in a whole new life, when you aren’t spending precious minutes checking through your notifications 😊

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Lol @he’s always on Facebook & the little push I needed to fall off the ledge XD

      I enjoyed your mini rant, and I agree we need to set boundaries.
      We can’t abandon social media o! It has the potential to be a platform for positive influence too…

      Like

    2. I don’t get the “you’re always on facebook” thing. I spend less than ten minutes a day on facebook when I choose to visit, it irritates me to no end when I get that ugly clause. It’s usually people you’ve not communicated with for ages that tell you that, are they covering up for the awkwardness of not reaching out to you?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Perhaps it’s guilt, I try to make excuses for people “perhaps they come online same time I’m online. Perhaps they saw only my Sunday IG posts. Perhaps they just assumed that because I was abroad, I’d always be online, Perhaps, Perhaps, perhaps. Perhaps Parents would call their children first, before digesting the words of “strangers”. 😊

        Liked by 1 person

  12. “The great thing about social media was how it gave a voice to voiceless people, but we’re now creating a surveillance society, where the smartest way to survive is to go back to being voiceless.”

    LOL but true 🙂

    Like

  13. I agree. I have mixed feelings about social media- but grateful for the benefits it can provide. Much of it is how do we relate to it? Can be used for the good/not- we can get addicted to it/not. We can allow the noise to barrage us or shut that out and focus on the good that has resulted because of it. beautifully articulated post.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks Diahann. We’ll be having conversations about social media often because it’s a big part of our lives. Ronson’s talk and the other materials I researched to write this post helped me reflect on my activities on social media and determine how I should conduct myself going forward.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Cyber mobs remind me of the Witch Hunts in Old Salem Village in 1692. We haven’t advanced much as a species in the intervening years. Technology changes. But we are still the same. Sad.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. These quotes seem appropriate here:

      Technological progress has merely provided us with more efficient means for going backwards.
      –Aldous Huxley

      The human spirit must prevail over technology.
      –Albert Einstein

      Science and technology revolutionize our lives, but memory, tradition and myth frame our response. – Arthur Schlesinger

      The good news is that some people are doing good things with technology.

      Liked by 1 person

  15. I remember following my timeline that day and feeling creeped out at the schadenfreude on display. I could not decide then if it was a harmless joke, but I knew adults going after a supposed ‘criminal’ like blood hounds couldn’t be healthy. Justine’s story has remained with me ever since. I remember her every time my timeline goes after another transgressor.

    Ronson described social media as a Mutual Approval Machine, and I find that true very often. A couple of weeks ago my timeline was filled with shaming of another perceived transgressor: Professor Tim Hunt. The man shared a joke at a luncheon that was supposedly self-depreciating, but someone came online to share parts of it that she insisted made the man out to be a misogynist.

    Without requiring more facts, my timeline went after him and, like it always happens now, Prof. Hunt lost his positions in places like UCL. What makes his case interesting is that a few days later, details started to surface that showed Hunt had in-fact shared a joke that was well received at the luncheon by his guests—mostly women. Louise Mensch, a journalist, took it upon herself to find out the truth of the matter, and her investigation revealed that the sinister ones in this case were those who came online to shame him.

    I’ve been typing the search terms “Tim Hunt” on Twitter, every week since the start of the debacle, to update myself. Unfortunately, none of those who gleefully tweeted ‘Shame on you’ at Hunt has come back to the timeline to admit their hot-headedness.

    At least Sam Biddle, the Gawker dude, was better in this regard. But only after he was bore the brunt of the same tool he had employed to destroy another person. ( http://gawker.com/justine-sacco-is-good-at-her-job-and-how-i-came-to-pea-1653022326 )

    You’ll have to be googling very particular terms to find that story and another in the New York Times that attempted to humanise Justine.

    We are just like the irate mobs that throw tires on people at the slightest whim in Nigeria. The problem is not social media. The problem is us.

    I decided long ago to favour silence on social media over talking. I rarely share my thoughts in little bits on Twitter. Like Ronson said, sometimes, i think the “Smartest way to survive is to go back to being voiceless” I often choose to do my online talking on my blog where I often have ample space to provide context. But what will happen to me if someone maliciously quotes me out of context like they did Hunt?

    I’ve thought about doing a blog post on Tim Hunt’s story for a very long time. I’ve always just thought it wasn’t entirely worth it. But now, I I’ll just do the blog post—it’s the least I can do.

    (You should follow Louise on Twitter @LouiseMensch to get a better view of Tim Hunt’s story.)

    We do not like to admit it, but we the people, and not our tools, are the real evil.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Ife, thanks for sharing. Before carrying our pitchforks and joining the mob, it’s good for us to take a moment and reflect.

      I would be very interested in reading your piece about the Tim Hunt saga.

      Here’s a comment from one of The Guardian’s articles on the Tim Hunt affair that I found interesting:

      It was not so long ago that the western world went to the wall to defend Charlie Hebdo’s “right to offend”, but it appears that neither our principles nor our resilience extend to tolerating the unfortunate remarks by Prof Tim Hunt, who must lose his position for a thoughtless aside. Our hypocrisy knows no bounds.
      Peter Martindale
      Castle Bytham, Lincolnshire
      http://www.theguardian.com/science/2015/jun/16/reversing-the-bandwagon-that-ran-over-tim-hunt

      We the people have found a new kind of power…

      I’m glad that some have defied fear and stood up to say, “Hey people this isn’t right.”

      Thanks again!

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Its like you read my thoughts exactly. Ronson has said it all but I think we need to become very vocal on the dangers we pose to others by our use of social media. And we need to learn to wait foe the full story before starting a shaming campaign.
      Also, we need to learn to apologise online, publicly when we’ve been part of a false accusatory campaign

      Liked by 2 people

  16. Young children who are capable of growing into compassionate adults often indulge in such cruelty. The problem with social media and the technology of mobile phones is that this juvenile activity is permanently recorded, and consequently not easily erased

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Indeed, like an indelible stain. This is sad, but I believe in redemption and second chances. I hope the adults in question can lead full lives regardless.

      The rules of engagement on social media are still being written. It’d be interesting to see how all this evolves.

      Liked by 2 people

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