The new F word

The new F word

The new ‘F’ word

Gone is the old 4-letter word we used to pretend we didn’t use. It is replaced by another ‘F’ word – Facebook. We use that, for sure, and most of the time. It pervades our waking hours and reads us when we sleep. It provides us with news – not always correct – and, ominously, ‘views’. It fires at us ads about the sort of things it knows we like to buy. Trump amuses, Facebook cruises.

You and I have nothing to hide so we are happy to have our personal details spread generously around the world, aren’t we? If asked this question you will probably say ‘yes’. That will be for two reasons. [1] we want to be thought of as transparent, honest, open. A legitimate reason, if a little disingenuous. [2] we know that if everyone becomes transparent we will be able to learn more than we will disclose.

For all that, we will, in our heart of hearts, be uncomfortable about everyone knowing everything about us. For a start it enables criminals to attack us more easily. It also lays bare some of the realities we hoped were seen in a better light. Our little exaggerations and self-promotions are more comfortable when hidden than when exposed. At least part of our self-esteem is a sneaking hope that we are as good as we think. It’s a survival streak of self-approval.

In a forthright article in Fair Observer (02Oct18) Atul Singh proposes that Mark Zuckerberg is more dangerous than Donald Trump. He proposes that Facebook is ‘tearing up the fabric of society and destroying democracy’. I have a great respect for Atul Singh and listen to his words with sincerity. He presents one side of the Facebook argument. Most of his points are valid. But it is only one face of the Facebook.

The Facebook phenomenon is a deeply-felt reaction to childhood and early democracy disciplines, both religious and secular, that were designed to keep us quiet and obedient whatever our wishes. Humans long since stopped making tigers jump through rings of fire but we are still doing the human equivalent to many children and the less powerful. Facebook, by virtue of its universality, is allowing us to shout for help without being beaten or humiliated. The fact that we may, in the process, humiliate ourselves is simply proof that we are free to do so. Stick that in your ear.

We have been told that Facebook is dangerous. It certainly can be. So are the motor car, computers and about 80% of the things we do for recreation, entertainment and even exercise. It is not compulsory to take part. That hasn’t stopped an overwhelming majority of those who can doing so. Even those who profoundly disapprove of Facebook often sneak a peek to see what their nephew has posted, largely in case it is something about them.

Fake sounds close to Facebook – and it occasionally is. The somewhat mis-named social media spread truth and lies with equal enthusiasm. Lies have been around forever. More apparently authentic for being broadcast, they have the ability to wreck people’s lives, to create gross unfairness and to leave the undefended dead. A developing world has many things to cope with. Fake news is just one of them. The media themselves must do more to verify and exclude. The individual must be schooled to be more questioning and selective. We stand on our own feet.

The learning curve is steep. There are many bumps on the way. But the great adventure of Facebook is one we should appreciate, adapt to and learn from. In a world where leadership is promoting isolationism we need all the encouragement and resource we can get to counter with globalization. Facebook won’t break democracy but it will challenge it.

I suspect that out of that challenge will rise a better, more rational democracy. A democracy that accounts for what a person puts into society not just for what they need to take out. That is not a right-wing view, just a rational one. But I also think that if we are to restore the high standards civilisation intended – and expected us to embrace – we will do so from universal knowledge not from censored communications.

Living our personal standards is better than living others’ laws.

If Facebook is somehow suppressed it will rise again in another from. The freedom to tell our story has arrived. It will not go away. We are better to understand it, embrace it, teach it’s safe handling and rejoice that voices previously forced into silence are liberated and free to speak.

We handled broadcasting; we can handle Facebook.