This past week, Facebook celebrated its 10th anniversary, and like myself I’m sure you only knew this because of the flood of lookback videos that filled your newsfeed. Like everyone else, I also took my stroll down memory lane and relived my years of social media-ing. I laughed at silly pictures and smiled at the collection of status updates that chronicled the biggest moments of my adult life. All in all, it was nice to see. As a snapshot of the past ten years, I was perfectly happy with it. Nothing too embarrassing. Nothing too schmultzy. It was a pretty decent representation of my life on Internet display.
Well actually, that’s not entirely true. There are things floating around the Internet from the early 2000’s that still manage to make my face turn red. For instance, my old Livejournal. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Livejournal, it was a site that functioned as an online diary (kind of like an early version of a blog). High schoolers would use it to spill their guts about crushes, day-to-day activities, and things they found funny or frustrating. But here’s the crazy thing—it was public. You wrote your most unedited and candid thoughts so your friends could read them. Going back and reading my own, it was clear—I had no tact. It was like someone cracked open my head and spilled out every thought my adolescent brain could muster. To call these journal entries embarrassing is an understatement. And then there was Webshots, which was the first place where my friends and I could publicly post pictures. It was filled to the brim with incriminating pictures of underage drinking and questionable fashion choices. But in some kind of Internet miracle, this past November Webshots wiped their data base clean and all photos that were once posted on the site no longer exist. Don’t believe me? Google yourself. That disastrous picture of you at a party in 2005? Gone!
I was lucky enough to make my poor Internet choices on sites that lost their popularity early on, but for those whose first crack at using social media was Facebook, they weren’t so lucky. With Facebook’s Timeline, every post you’ve ever made is readily available as long as you continue to scroll. For some people, you don’t even have to scroll very far down (or not at all) to find posts that portray them in a light less flattering, and this week in particular, I saw a few posts that really flaunted that. These were posts that went viral on Facebook and highlighted one of the biggest mistakes people make when using social media—posting without a discerning eye. These were posts that said more about the people who posted then I think was ever intended.
Shake My Head Moment #1: The Sochi Olympics Opening Ceremony Rumor
Numerous times this absurd headline found its way onto my newsfeed, and of all the talk slamming the Sochi Olympics, this one really took the cake. The headline read, “Man Responsible for Olympic Ring Mishap Found Dead in Sochi.” People were outraged, making comments like “what a f’ed up place Russia is,” and how they were “officially NOT watching or supporting these games anymore.” However, it was clear that these people A) Only read the headline, and B) Didn’t check the source of the article. They didn’t bother to read the actual article (where they would have found ridiculous fictional quotes throughout), and they didn’t bother to google “dailycurrant.com,” because had they done so, they would have read that it’s a fictional news blog. But the post was made and the damage was done.
Shake My Head Moment #2: Miley vs. Duck Dynasty
Then there was this gem. Right off the bat this picture made me cringe and it only got worse when I read the comment threads. The comments were a mixed bag of anti-gay rants, pro-religious messages, and a few free-speech statements here and there.
For those of you may not remember, this past year Phil Robertson of the A&E’s Duck Dynasty got in hot water for insulting the black community, and for calling homosexuality a “sin” and not “logical” in an interview he did with GQ magazine. Following the interview, A&E decided to suspend Robertson from the show in order to distance the network from his opinions. A&E received backlash for their decision, with Internet bloggers and talking heads stating this violated Robertson’s “right to free speech,” and soon after, he was allowed back on the program. Since the controversy, according to Time Magazine, Nielsen ratings show the program has been steadily losing millions of viewers week after week. (http://entertainment.time.com/2014/01/23/duck-dynasty-takes-a-ratings-dive/).
However, you would never know any of that just by looking at the picture. What the picture shows is a family praying. It doesn’t actually address the issues that plagued the family following the GQ interview. So did the person who originally created this use this photo to say that we need more religion in our media, or did they use this picture to mask Robertson’s controversial opinion by depicting him solely as a religious family man? Clearly the people re-posting and adding to the comment thread couldn’t seem to figure that out either.
So, how does this connect to the Not So Book Club Book Club?
As English students, we were taught to read with a close eye and decipher the nuances of each story and character. Like detectives, we were taught to attack a story from numerous angles, and pick the text apart in order to fully understand it. We are introduced to new ways of looking at the world with each and every text we read, and those new perspectives stay with us as we function in the real world.
When I see a headline, I think like a reader and search for a credible source. When I see a statement photograph, I pick it apart as I would with a text and figure out who created it, why they created it, and who do they represent before I publicly form an opinion on it. Books have taught me be a critical reader, and have helped me better understand the millions of messages that are thrown at me on a daily basis.
When I look at a major platform like Facebook, I think of it as a high school auditorium. For a few seconds, that status update or article I posted is center stage, standing in front of a highly critical audience of “friends.” That post speaks on behalf of me regardless if I’m posting something to be funny or to make a serious statement about how I feel. It tells the audience “this is who I am and this is what I believe.” And as long as I approach my social media with the keen eye of a reader, only then can I fully represent myself to the best of my abilities.
Read more, think more, and represent yourself better.