The danger of reposting
I established a Facebook account in 2005, and apart from a brief hiatus sometime after undergrad, I've maintained it and visited pretty regularly. What I've found is that there's something that bothers me more than ultrasounds popping up in my news feed like diabolical jack-in-the-wombs, and even more than barrages of requests to play the site's "casual" games.
No, what bothers me most is the Facebook freak-out.
If you're a FB user, you know what I'm talking about. It often takes the form of a lengthy message posted by one of your friends, and includes lots of capitalized words and exclamation points. Here's an example:
Just so you all know there is SOMETHING BAD happening on Facebook!!! Due to changes in privacy settings, Mark Zuckerberg is now able to see all of your photos, print them out in 3D form, and build himself a fortress of solitude from our stolen memories like Jadis the White Witch!!! DO NOT let this happen!!
I see one of these kinds of messages crop up every month or two, and I have the same reaction each time. I go to Google, type in something that's part of the message, and add the word "hoax," then hit enter. And inevitably, I'm right.
The reason this gets on my nerves so badly is because it's such a quick fix to verify that these kinds of messages are bull. Why are users so willing to believe information passed along on a social media website? Do you trust your friends so implicitly that when they repost something that walks like a bad meme and talks like a bad meme, you're willing to believe your friends over your own common sense?
As a member of a younger generation, I feel awkward pointing this out (ok, mostly just annoyed), but this is an updated version of that age-old nagging: If all your friends jumped off a cliff, would you do it, too?
There are people in the digitalverse called "trolls" who love to see gullible jerks fall for this kind of false hysteria. By passing along these sorts of messages, not only are you diluting the flow of actual information, but you're letting trolls turn you into their buttmonkey. And I can't imagine that feels very comfortable.
It's pretty telling that FB subscribers are called "users," because the site neurologically acts the same way as a drug. Your brain tells you that social approval = food, in an evolutionary sense, so all those likes on the picture of your new puppy or the hummus sandwich you so artfully prepared for lunch are just ways in which you feel stable within the herd. You have a purpose...you are the taker of Instagram photos of funny shoes!
I'm not saying that's entirely a bad thing, because getting your daily e-hug from your friends can be pretty awesome. We live in a world where people often live far away from their friends, and FB is one of many tools to cut the stress of the distance factor way down in relationships. I may not keep up a weekly correspondence with acquaintances from high school or my Indian study abroad, but I can keep up with their lives and click in an occasional attaboy when something cool happens in their lives.
The problem arises when you start treating those friends as if they're completely infallible. You and your pals have your own opinions, and your own sets of conflicting knowledge, so you'd often double-check the root of that selfsame hysteria if they passed it along to you on the street. So why is the Internet so very different?
Answer: because reposting is easy, and takes next to zero thought.
This isn't just limited to FB warnings, either. I've read sob stories and amber alerts that are also patently false, passed along by well-intentioned people who think they're helping spread a positive message, or save a life. Unfortunately, in not checking their facts, they're actually absorbing attention and resources that could be spent alerting people about an actual heartwarming story or missing child.
It's a site, it's a tool. Don't treat it like it belongs to you, because it doesn't: it's just a platform. And someday it, too, will become outdated, despite Zuckerberg's every desperate act to the contrary.
The most succinct analogy I can think of it this: FB is like an office at work. Sure, you bring in some of your personal memorabilia to keep you company, but on the day the wind inevitably changes, you're going to want to be able to clean all that stuff out in a single trip.
So check your memes, people. It's really not that hard, and you can go to sleep feeling like less of a chump if you do.
Courier Publications reporter Bane Okholm received her M.F.A. in Screenwriting from U.C.L.A. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @MediaHeathen.