Thursday, September 10, 2015

We Are What We Like

A good friend and Brother recently sent me a private text telling me that he had an issue with a post that I had shared that day on Facebook. He explained very civilly why he didn’t like the post and how he thought it might reflect badly on us as Masons. While I didn’t agree with him, I removed it out of respect. The exchange got me thinking about how much our social media behavior directly impacts how we are perceived by others.

Whether we like it or not, social media is here to stay. It has woven itself, one very colorful thread at a time, into the fabric of our daily lives. As a nation, we feel compelled to share pictures of ourselves, our children, our pets, and our meals. We are eager to post stories about coworkers, dining experiences, and those crazy misadventures that landed us in the emergency room. While I don’t care that much about every nap, donut, at-bat, concert, ice cream cone, or theme park trip that little Stevie enjoyed (there is such a thing as sharing too much), I do enjoy the occasional glimpse into my friends’ lives that Facebook affords. And if it gets to be too much, I can generally just scroll past until something interesting catches my eye.

The problems begin to arise when incorrect information is disseminated as fact. Morgan Freeman still isn’t dead (thankfully); Mars will not look as big as the moon next week (or ever), and Augusts which have five Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays occur way more frequently than every 827 years. Sites trying to pawn themselves off as legitimate news sources lure us in with click bait (“He took a plastic spoon, some sugar-free gum, and a roll of chicken wire. . . I can’t believe what he did next,” or “[Politician] is in hot water for sure. . .You’ll never guess what he/she said”) designed to get you to their site and generate ad revenue.  Far too many people are now using Facebook, Twitter, and other sites as their primary (read only) source of news, and it becomes very easy to read that story and share it with your friends, their friends, and the whole world without even ascertaining whether it has any truth to it. And before you ask, no, your favorite shampoo will not give you a rash that looks suspiciously like a lotus flower pod Photoshopped onto a shoulder, so don’t click the share button.

While the above examples can be annoying, they are generally innocuous. The real trouble comes from the hate-filled political and social posts that have dominated my (and probably your) news feed of late. Cecil the Lion, Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner, Confederate flags are dominating my news feed today, but by the time this goes to print they will have been replaced by a new division du jour.

Pictures and posts that pit one class of people against another, eschew a religion, or put down others for their political views have no legitimate purpose, and we as Masons should think twice about liking or sharing anything that divisive. I have two friends and Brothers (both of whom read this column) who I have removed from my news feed because of the vitriol they spread through social media. One of them hates Republicans, the other hates Democrats. I hate seeing that kind of broad brush approach to anything, so it was a one-way ticket to Blockville for them both. Yes, I will miss updates on some of their Lodge events and the more thoughtful posts that they write, but I no longer want to sift through so much hate-filled chaff to get to the occasional grain of wheat.

So how can we, as Masons, decide what to share and what to scroll past as we peruse our News Feeds? I’m glad you asked, but I was going to tell you anyway. First, you can follow my example and block those who habitually post those things. Unfriending your uncle may cause a family feud, but he will never know if you simply blocked his rants from your news feed. I recommend using this option liberally. You’ll  love your new and more positive news feed.

Even after we have blocked the worst offenders, there will still be posts that make our like and share fingers a little twitchy. Before we give in to the impulse, we should FACT check it. Use the handy acronym F-A-C-T to take the guesswork out of whether to give a thumb up, a share or just to pass it by.

First, is it FEASIBLE? The odds that Facebook is going to start charging fees are about the same that the email you keep getting is from a real Nigerian prince who wants to give you money. If, on its face, an idea or proposition seems unlikely, it is. Scroll on by. Remember, there is no such thing as a free iPad. And if we fail one time out of 285,000 to pass on something legitimate, the world will go on spinning.

Next, is it ABHORRENT? Does the picture or post demean, humiliate, or degrade a person, a group, a religion, or a belief? Is it filled with vile points of view or abusive language? Is the sentiment of the post so disgusting that you would be embarrassed to share it with your grandmother? Then don’t share it with your Facebook friends.

Now ask yourself if what you are viewing is CHIC? Sure, it’s trendy to comment on the Duggars, Kardashians, or Honey Boo-Boo, but sometimes discretion can be the better part of Facebooking. When you get right down to it, each of us has an opinion on everything. However, having a social media account puts us under absolutely no obligation to share it. Sometimes it’s okay to let our friends wonder about our stance on proper football inflation – it builds mystique.

Last, is it TRUE? If Winston Churchill, Julius Caeser, or Deepak Chopra didn’t actually say it, then we should feel no obligation to share it. But how can I tell?, you ask. Go to Google and search it, check, or even examine the source material. If it’s untrue, step away from the like button.

Remember, social media is forever. Some of what we share today will be available until the end of time, so we must take care to make sure that what is on our timeline is an accurate representation of who we are and what we believe.

The goal of this column isn’t to scare you or shame you into closing your account or never sharing another post – Facebook and Twitter can be fun, informative, and entertaining after all.  Rather, it is to help you make informed decisions. Remember, Modern Vitruvians, we are what we like. That’s a FACT.