You have to forgive me but I am having a hard time working up any righteous indignation over the Facebook Russian election cheating scandal.
The Russians apparently did all sorts of tricky things trying to influence the 2016 election. I imagine the Chinese and the Herzegovenians and the Paraguaynians all were trying, too. I guess fixing their own elections isn’t challenging enough anymore.
So what is new? We’ve been doing this sort of thing for years. What do you think Radio Free Europe was? It was using the most recent technology to influence events in other countries. We’ve dropped pamphlets from airplanes, circulated false information in other countries and aimed our greatest secret weapon (Hollywood!) at other countries for ages.
That’s not to say we shouldn’t try to prevent these kinds of things from happening to us. But it’s kind of hypocritical to act all self-righteous about it.
No, what really bothers me is that we all think Americans are so stupid that we all could be influenced so much by posts on Facebook and Twitter or wherever else they show up. Wait a minute — you mean there are people out there who actually believe all the things they see on Facebook? If that’s the case, we shouldn’t be worrying about the Russians or even about Mark Zuckerberg. We should be worrying about ourselves.
Facebook supposedly was started to help people keep in touch with each other. Maybe that was the motivation. The motivation now seems to be to make as many bucks as possible. That’s OK, after all this is America.
And yes, I’ve found Facebook to be very useful for keeping in touch with old classmates, setting up reunions and other similar functions.
But Facebook’s expressed purpose of bringing people together hasn’t worked. In fact, I think in many cases it does the opposite.
These kinds of communication promote a fairly superficial form of relationship. People think that a few lines of text or a picture from a vacation or a cute cat video is “staying in touch.” There’s nothing wrong with any of that but I fear it is taking the place of actually sitting down and getting to know that other person.
And the negative and downright untrue stuff that shows up on Facebook or Twitter or wherever is amazing. Why do people think it is OK to write something they would never say to a person’s face and then send it out so thousands of people can see it? We all should make a vow to count to about 100 and read every tweet three times before we send it out.
Sometimes I think it would be good thing to just go social media cold turkey. I know some young people who have quit social media and some old people who never started. They seem to live normal, uncomplicated lives. It would be great if everyone would pick one day — say, Sunday — and just stay off social media for that day each week. Walk your dog, pet your cat, talk to your neighbors, visit a park, do anything but look at a screen. We’d probably all be better off, although there could be some serious withdrawal pains.
So here’s the bottom line. I don’t feel sorry for Mark Zuckerberg because he lost almost $16 billion in one day when Facebook stock crashed. He still has plenty left.
I don’t feel sorry that we caught the Russians (but those Herzegovenians probably got away with it!) monkeying around trying to influence our election. They’ll think twice the next time. Yeah, they’ll think twice because they’ll have to come up with a new way to do it. And we’ll think twice because we’ll be trying to come up with ways to influence their elections.
I do feel sorry because I feel like I might be living in the middle of an Isaac Asimov novel. In one of his books, there is a planet called Solaria where inhabitants almost never actually meet each other — they communicate using a kind of holographic process called “viewing.” They become so used to electronic communication that it becomes painful to personally interact with other people.
We’re a long way from that. But it does feel kind of creepy sometimes. I’ll have to send a text or an email or go on Facebook to see what my friends think about it.
David Lindeman is a Troy resident and former editor at the Troy Daily News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.