New forms of media always have to deal with people irrationally freaking out about them. People have been bitching about media since antiquity. But lately there’s been a rash of articles about how Facebook is destroying marriages or young women or young men or Anthony Weiner, and it really needs to stop.
There are two themes to these pieces; they’re well-meaning, and completely disconnected from reality. Take, for example, Vanity Fair’s article on teenagers and social media called “Friends Without Benefits.” It’s actually a piece worth taking the time to read… the problem being that it assumes most of the behaviors involved somehow started with the Internet:
Combined with unprecedented easy access to the unreal world of Internet porn, the result is a situation that has drastically affected gender roles for young people. Speaking to a variety of teenaged boys and girls across the country, Nancy Jo Sales uncovers a world where boys are taught they have the right to expect everything from social submission to outright sex from their female peers. What is this doing to America’s young women?
Here’s a better question: How is this different from 1980? It’s not like the Internet invented sexism or crappy parenting. The problems in this article are troubling and very real, but unfortunately, they’re not new. Those boys expect sex because their parents never bothered to teach them that pretty much everything pop culture tells you about sex is wrong, not because dating apps exist.
Still, Vanity Fair deserves credit for finding an actual problem and how technology plays into it. Compare that to this piece, where a guy basically blames Facebook for his own engagement-derailing actions:
It began innocently enough, like I said: The usual back-and-forth catch up messages, some light Facebook stalking. I say it was innocent, but I know now – and really, then – that it wasn’t. I started checking Facebook way more, to see if she’d responded to me yet, or if there was any other activity of hers I could creep on. (Yes, I’m admitting I was acting like a creep.) I was also taking precautions to make sure Caroline didn’t see any of this. I changed my Facebook password often, made sure I never stayed logged in, and deleted my sent messages, as well as any messages from Laura that seemed “too” flirtatious.
Like the Vanity Fair piece, there’s a kernel of truth to this: The author argues that with social media and technology, there’s only so far you can get from your ex, these days. Which can be problematic if you still have feelings for said ex. But again, it misses a larger point.
Facebook is a tool for communication, yes, but that has a flip side, of having to see people you know at their worst all the time. Back when you only had to meet your racist aunt at the occasional family function, you could gloss over her questionable statements. But on Facebook, when she starts posting photoshops of Obama looking hungrily at a banana on your Wall, you have to have a talk with her about socially acceptable behavior.
And that’s a good thing. I’ve mentioned before that the Internet brings us closer to idiots and our own worst tendencies, but the simple fact of the matter is that we all have crappy tendencies that we struggle with. I used to have a nasty temper online and I still do to some degree, but that’s not Facebook’s fault. All Facebook did was give me the tools to humiliate myself into realizing I need to take a deep breath and let some things go.
That’s the thing; ultimately, I took accountability for my actions. Social media doesn’t “make” us do anything. It just, in the end, will make us think about what kind of person we are.