Social media. It’s brought people together. It’s how, many years ago before the world of Facebook, I met my husband. Social media can be like a time machine, bringing back friends you had in elementary school and helping you to catch up on their lives. It can reunite family members who have last touch over time and distance. It can unite people for causes. It can make people feel less alone. But it can also be dark. It can display parts of ourselves that maybe it’s best not knowing.
When I was a child, my mom used to have company over often. We were the fun house that many people came to hang out at. People came, played cards, laughed, ate, drank and just otherwise had a great time. One of my mom’s rules though was that no one discussed politics or religion at the table. I guess it was okay to discuss away from the dinner table, I was never interested enough to find out, but at the dinner table those two subjects were taboo. That lesson stuck with me and I’ve shied away from those topics even when not at the dinner table. It just felt like it was safer to keep those two subjects out of my life.
Fast forward many years and I married a man who I knew had different political ideals than I did. But it was okay, because we didn’t discuss politics. I could accept that he voted for Bob Dole when I voted for Bill Clinton. It didn’t really matter, because we had other things that were more important in our lives. As years passed and social media went from chat and game bulletin boards that you dialed into to sites like Myspace and Facebook, things began to change. Suddenly, people began posting what was inside their heads. Their deepest thoughts. Their politics. Their religion.
Now, we know things about our friends and family members that we may never have known without Facebook. We now know that Uncle Mike loves cat videos and is a homophobe who writes long winded diatribes about how Target’s bathroom policies are going to destroy the world. We know that our second grade friend, Susie, is a religious fanatic who believes that Jesus is coming to save us in a spaceship made of cheese. We know the good things about our friends, but we also know the really distasteful things too.
People have gotten so comfortable on social media that they will post pretty much anything and everything about their lives. Things no one would say in public, they will say on social media. Which is PUBLIC. When you say something on social media, it’s like you are saying it outside, yelling it for the world to hear. When you start a trolling fight with someone on Facebook it’s not just between you two. It’s between you two, and all of both of your friends, and possibly their friends friends, etc. It’s public. If you wouldn’t say this stuff to your friend’s face, saying it on Facebook or Twitter does not make it okay.
This election cycle has been brutal. I stopped following my mom’s rules about politics and religion and began stating my own thoughts. I will admit, it is kind of freeing, albeit a bit scary to do so. I have lost some friends and gained a few new ones because of what I, or someone else, has posted. I have seen some truly dark parts of some people very close to me and I really wish I hadn’t seen them. But social media is truly the Pandora’s box for the new millennium and the box has been opened. And once it’s opened, you can’t just stuff everything back in and close it up like it hadn’t been touched. It’s been touched. It’s been opened. And it’s not pretty.