The Universal Notebook: The death of social media

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Elon Musk, the idiot savant of electric cars and rocketship joy rides, has been in the news lately for purchasing and then inexplicably dismantling the microblogging and social networking service Twitter.  

Almost nothing Musk does interests me in the least, but I am interested in his Twitter fiasco because he may ultimately be remembered by history as the man who let treasonous former prexy Trump back on Twitter after first firing two-thirds of its employees. He may be the wealthiest person in the world, but that doesn’t mean he understands the difference between free speech (which he thinks he is promoting by refusing to monitor and filter content) and hate speech (which he is what he is actually promoting).

Edgar Allen BeemTwitter, like most social media, is a virtual cesspool of self-importance and Trump and Musk are No. 1 and No. 2 on the Narcissist Most Wanted list. Both men are living proof that you don‘t have to contribute anything positive to society in order to get obscenely rich.

Yes, yes, I know, I am a 20th-century curmudgeon still married to dead-tree magazines and newspapers, but I honestly believe the world would be much better off without social media. I belonged to Facebook for a few years but I shut my page down several years ago when I began to understand the insidious effects of Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, Snapchat, YouTube and Instagram. 

To begin with, social media is addicting. Once you get to checking your pages and feeds hourly, you are hooked. That was one of the primary reasons I quit Facebook. I was just spending too much time in the useless quest of online attention. My Facebook “friends” were not my real friends for the most part. And Facebook spooks were compiling a digital dossier on me.

Then, too, social media promotes the spread of misinformation and empowers fringe groups. The most negative effect of social media may be that oddballs and extremists, who have always existed, have managed to find one another online and coalesced into all manner of sicko identity groups.

Social media has also contributed greatly to the destruction of the truth. Abnormal people like Trump have made it normal to believe anything you can say is true. That leads to an inability to differentiate between the real and the virtual, fact and opinion. I used to think Donald Trump was just the world’s biggest liar, but I have come to the conclusion that he may actually be a lunatic who believes all the nonsense he spouts, posts and tweets.

And then there is cyberbullying. People who study the effects of social media suggest that online bullying is one of the worst problems with platforms like Facebook and Twitter. According to StopBullying.Org, 43 percent of teens have been bullied online, nine out of 10 LGBTQ teens have been bullied and 5.4 million children stay home from school every day because they fear bullying. The suicide rate among students 10 to 14 has risen 50 percent in the last three decades. 

Ultimately, the biggest reason I do not partake of social media and won’t care if Elon Musk does manage to destroy Twitter is that when a person spends hours and hours each day surfing, scrolling, posting, trolling and tweeting they develop the digital delusion that they are actually accomplishing something when, in fact, they are just wasting time, their own and everybody else’s.

Stop tweeting. Read a book, take a hike, write a letter, visit a real friend, volunteer, make a difference. 

Edgar Allen Beem has been writing The Universal Notebook weekly since 2003, first for The Forecaster and now for the Phoenix. He also writes the Art Seen feature.

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