Fort Report: Facebook or Hatebook?

Mar 23, 2018
Fort Report

This week in Washington a rare spring snowstorm hit the city. There was a question about whether the Wednesday morning DC Nebraska Breakfast would be cancelled in light of the pending government shutdown. I told the breakfast coordinator, “It doesn’t matter if DC shuts down, Nebraskans are going to show up!”  About 75 Nebraskans came.  He said, “You were right!” 

Among the visitors to Washington this week were a group of Nebraska school principals.  They wanted to talk about some narrower lanes of federal policy, but, quickly, a much longer discussion ensued about the state of the country and the state of the culture.  I said to them, “I don’t see how you do what you do.  You are on the front lines of so much woundedness and brokenness.  It’s not the fullness of your responsibility to deal with all this, but you have to.”  Educators are caught with frontline obligation of helping and protecting children in increasing complexity.  Congress is caught by the obligation of creating the necessary societal conditions for personal and communal wellbeing.  Neither set of institutions can do this alone.  

A certain irony exists today.  We are more interconnected than ever, yet further apart.  Fake social media community is no substitute for the real thing.  This week, an interesting thing happened.  The most powerful social medium in history, whose controversial “founder” is the 5th richest person on earth, experienced a rare comeuppance.  Facebook--or what I dub “Hatebook”-- was roundly condemned for granting a private firm unfettered access to personal user data without users’ permission.  Suddenly, a Twitter hashtag, #deleteFacebook, gained global momentum. Facebook’s stock price plummeted. 

I am not recommending that we all quit Facebook.  It helps us keep in touch with friends and family, share photos and other memories.  But Facebook also creates a false narrative of belonging, and then exploits that inauthentic connection for outrageous profit.  It puts us in a nonstop state of fight-or-flight hyperactivity—what researchers at Nottingham Trent University describe as “Facebook Addiction Disorder”--distracting us from what is authentically important back in the real world. 

What’s undeniable is that social media magnify political differences that might take on a subtler hue in person.  In so doing, this fake community creates real world divisiveness in what should be authentic community, as the after-effects filter down to the most intimate areas of our lives.  We see this most clearly with politics, the obsession du jour at cocktail parties, hunting expeditions, public sporting events, and even at children’s recitals. We can’t simply go about our ordinary lives anymore, or take a break from the daily grind, without political discussion, political protests, or political posturing entering the frame.  Opinions are often delivered in a heated way, mimicking the hyperventilating, accusatory tenor of social media itself.  All of this hysteria engenders bad will and makes it harder to come together around what is essential. 

Work in Congress is important.  But I don’t think that your wellbeing should depend on the political class nor on whatever social media outrage exists in the next moment.  As a farmer told me awhile back, “Enough with this obsession with politics.” 

The #DeleteFacebook meme suggests that a change might be afoot in how we think about the predominant and corrosive ways in which social media and traditional media operate, the effects of which creep into the classroom.  Maybe we are ready to admit that our knee-jerk obsession with the latest hit of scandal out of DC is blinding us to what we really love, to what makes a life worth living, to what is serious and important.  

A friend of mine once said to me, “If Nebraska goes, America goes.”  The good news in all this is that Nebraskans show up, even when the rest of DC doesn’t.