I first heard of Facebook around ten years ago, when my sons were teens. Our family computer was in the living room, enabling us to keep a close eye on their usage of the wild, wild West that was (and is) the Internet.
Every now and then, while they were supposed to be doing homework, we would look up and see them on something called Facebook. It was new, and like most parents, I was suspicious of anything online.
“What are you doing?” I would ask in my best cranky dad voice. “It’s just Facebook,” my son would reply. “All my friends are on it.”
And they were. Page after page, pictures of teens on the beach, in their cars, and posing in front of bathroom mirrors. It seemed harmless enough, although it certainly used up a lot of time.
I would remind them they had work to do, and would try to limit their time on Facebook. A year or two later, some of my adult friends asked me why I wasn’t on Facebook. “Isn’t it just for kids?” I’d ask. They would reply, “Not anymore! You should try it out. It’s fun!”
In early 2009, I jumped in. My friends were right. Before long, I had connected with folks I didn’t see often enough, sharing photos and stories with them. Even better, I reconnected with co-workers and classmates I hadn’t seen in decades. We could comment on each other’s posts, and share updates on our families.
By 2011, I had published my first book, and Facebook was a great way to spread the word about it. I’ve made a lot of new friends via Facebook, and to this day, it’s nice to meet someone in person who had previously just been an online friend.
While Facebook is still a terrific way to share life experiences, both happy and sad, it’s also become troublesome in recent years.
On any given day, my Facebook feed is half-filled with annoying ads, fake coupons, and images I’d rather not see. These days, if you open any door, in real life or online, a scam artist will find a way in. Despite the best efforts of those who operate Facebook, the site has become a breeding ground for rip-offs and conflict.
Our current political divide has found a home on Facebook. The ugly, noisy presidential campaign is hard to avoid, and is front and center on Facebook. Those who love Clinton hate Trump, and those who love Trump hate Clinton. In more innocent times, such public support was often limited to a sign in the front yard. Now, it’s in your face, on Facebook.
Although I doubt anyone has been convinced to switch their vote because of a Facebook post, that doesn’t keep your Aunt Hilda from trying. Sadly, much of the information that is posted is wildly inaccurate. Even sadder, many people believe that if it’s on the Internet, it’s true.
Facebook also has me wondering: Whatever happened to civility? As a media person for the past few decades, I’ve fielded my share of complaints, as have the stations for which I have worked. Being humans, we make mistakes. In the past, if we made a spelling error, or mispronounced a word, we might get a letter or phone call gently reminding us to make a correction, or brush up on our grammar skills.
Those days are long gone. Within moments of any miscue, a Facebook “friend” will pounce. “Hey idiot, learn how to spell!” they will write. Or, “Doesn’t that news girl know how to say something without stuttering?” There’s even, “What was David Carroll thinking when he put on that tie? Is he colorblind, or just stupid?”
In all fairness, sometimes they have a valid beef. We should spell words correctly, reporters do occasionally stumble over their words on live TV, and I should never be allowed to coordinate an outfit on my own. (My wife usually handles this chore, but when she’s not available, I’ve been known to mix plaids and stripes.)
Still, when did it become acceptable for people to openly humiliate others on a public forum? Most of us news people can easily be contacted via phone or e-mail, and a gentle nudge is just as effective as a loud insult.
Social media experts say that Facebook and other online forums have given everyone a voice. In their own way, everyone can be a publisher, a journalist, or a commentator. Bill O’Reilly and Rush Limbaugh may have a wider reach, but you and I can express our views too. Let’s just follow one basic rule of common courtesy: Don’t put anything on Facebook you wouldn’t say to someone’s….face.