The irony of writing this post on a blog and, inevitably, spamming people with it on Facebook, does not elude me. Do not point it out – you will only embarrass yourselves.
There are many gripes to be had with social media. The Orwellian nature of it all, the relentless wave of inanity, the problem of people thinking that everyone cares about everything they have to say (I know, I know), the stream of baby pictures (nobody else thinks your baby is as cute as you do), the endless, specious “inspirational” quotes. Marilyn Monroe was not Ludwig Wittgenstein. If people “can’t handle you at your worst”, you are probably a bell end. Then there are the photos of other people, clearly having a great time on a night out, or on holiday, or with friends, while you sit at home, eating cereal at 1am, watching re-runs of Come Dine With Me, just wondering whether this eternal pit of pain and despair will ever…
Sorry. Where was I?
Oh yes, social media. The main grievance that I have is none of the above, but the pictures dripping with saccharin-sweetness that try to tug on your heartstrings, not so much with subtlety, but with a hammer bashing you over the head repeatedly, screaming “GIVE THIS POST A LIKE OR YOU WILL BURN IN HELL!!!!” It falls under a similar category to reality show sob stories; the awful, mawkish ‘tragedy razzmatazz’, an inability to appreciate anyone’s talent unless they have lost a friend, family member, elderly neighbour, or goldfish. The public has a penchant for mass hysteria, brought to full view with every celebrity death, and users of social networks know it.
Yes, posts that implore us to give 1 million likes for soldiers or cancer patients are irritating purely on a superficial level (your ‘likes’ are not helping if you click the mouse and go straight back to an eight hour Candy Crush marathon). Nobody likes cancer – we are already aware of this. “If I click like, people will know I hate cancer – yaaaay”. It is the sentimental equivalent to loving “films, music, and breathing” on a dating site. It also causes another of my biggest hates, as people comment to say that the power of God has saved this person, and will get them through life. That would be the same power of God that gave an 8 year old cancer in the first place, of course. This is intertwined with those who use injured soldiers as disturbing propaganda, showing it as a display of spirit and “the British/American hero”, as opposed to a horrifying indictment of warfare. However, there is more to it than my pure cold-heartedness.
These pictures are the face of internet scams. “This is my sister Mallory. She has Down’s syndrome – tell her she’s beautiful”. That person is not Mallory. Their photo has been stolen, their name changed, to be used for private gain. These pages are set up, and as their likes increase, so does the value of the newfound “business”, and advertising revenue. They are then sold to a willing buyer, who changes a few details, and is left with a readymade, successful fan page.
Any scam is infuriating, but one that plays on the emotions – the real emotions – of people’s family and friends, is particularly bitter. The recently deceased Stephen Sutton, someone who used social networking to all its wonderful potential, has shown what can be done. His was a genuinely heart breaking, yet incredibly uplifting, story. Yes, the maudlin nature of the public can be annoying, but Stephen actually affected people, and made a huge, huge difference. The “no make-up selfie”, despite having its own small band of “I’ll post a selfie but not actually donate” people, had a truly massive, positive impact.
These scams, and their high publicity through likes, affect people. Imagine trawling through posts demanding likes for a cancer patient whose name you don’t recognise, attached to a photo of your son, daughter, friend, or grandchild. These people’s names are changed, but they are real individuals. They have real people who care about them. The real people are cast aside; do we know what really happened to them? There is a horrible cynicism to a world where signs are superimposed onto children with illnesses. “Can I get 1 million likes? I beat cancer!” These people are, quite probably, still suffering with the illness, or indeed may have passed away. They are manufactured as nothing more than an advertising ploy. It is a trend that has spilled over into business networking site Linkedin, and seems to permeate every social area of the internet.
Aside from the scam, the fact that issues as grave as cancer and war can be reduced to “like” form is indicative of a society that has become unable to express anything true or meaningful. Facebook recently announced news that they are developing a “sympathise” button. It is the distillation of emotions. The death of a loved one, or a harrowing personal incident, requires your true friends to be there in person, to be supportive, to offer advice, to interact, to show that they actually care. Can it really all be condensed to the click of a button? No doubt the “sympathise” button will mainly be used for “in a relationship” statuses anyway. Top bantz.