Why Observe Lent at All?
I’m neither atheist nor religious. Growing up Protestant, I never really “gave up” anything for Lent – maybe chocolate or candy for the first three days of Lent, but not with any mindful, spiritual intent. During a year at Catholic school, I “gave up” meat on Fridays, opting instead to buy the Kraft American Slices cheese-and-Wonder Bread sandwiches for which money was then donated to charity. I didn’t have to, of course, but it would only have made me feel more “other” than I already did at the mandatory Wednesday mass, where we non-Catholics had to hang back, unworthy to join in communion. The church I grew up in, the UCC, invites everyone to join in, provided they have an understanding of the symbolism and significance.
It’s the thing, you know, to “give up” something for Lent. Doesn’t matter what your faith is – “What are you giving up for Lent?” is a question with about as much religious significance attached as “What’s Santa bringing you for Christmas?” or “How much money did the Tooth Fairy leave under your pillow for those two front teeth?” It’s just a thing, with guilty pleasures like chocolate or sugar or bitching about the Kardashians topping the list. But Lent is also an opportunity for spiritual reflection and for breaking bad habits and making better ones. That’s how I intend to approach it, this year.
While some hard-core Lent fanatics are giving up Social Media (#5), I’m just giving up Facebook (#22) in order to reflect on the struggle we all face between “utility and convenience,” as Jack Yan put it; entertainment and instant gratification; and our own core values, like integrity and kindness.
I don’t believe that social media isolates us. It doesn’t isolate us any more than sticking our nose in a good book at the dinner table does – which is to say that it allows us to isolate ourselves just a much or as little as we choose to. I have family and real friends there who mean the world to me, and it is our primary way of keeping in touch, day to day, as we are separated by great distances. I tend to ignore the “news feed” on Facebook, which doubtless leaves some of them feeling neglected. I focus, instead, on the conversations that happen on my own “wall” and respond to the notifications I see. That cuts down on much of what raises people’s blood pressure when it comes to social media, and leaves me with a mostly happy user experience. It’s the social media equivalent of going through life with blinders on. I run a well moderated wall, and my goal has always been for it to be a place for lively conversation, intelligent debate, and civility for all.
I don’t believe that the “anonymity” of social media makes monsters and psychopaths of us. It may facilitate monsters and psychopaths finding each other, and it may serve to validate, in their minds, their psychotic tendencies, but it doesn’t turn decent human beings into horrible ones. The horrible ones, I’m sorry to say, have always been horrible – maybe they were better at hiding it when they couldn’t hide their faces behind a screen, or maybe we just didn’t notice it. But they’ve always been rotten at the core.
One thing has become crystal clear over the past eight years or so: Facebook is hard to quit, even as many of us bemoan the meanness and rampant, willful ignorance that abounds and spreads like Ebola – and the fact that it makes us hate our fellow man more and more. As Anne Frank wrote: “In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart. I simply can’t build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery and death.” Most people focus on the bit about us being “really good at heart.” I am not unshakeably sure of that, but I do know that “I can’t build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery and death.”
I need a break.
But That’s Nothing New – Why Now?
I kind of wish I hadn’t rediscovered Tagboard.
In preparing to give a presentation on social media for writers, in May, I started looking at how the hashtags we use might look in the aggregate – not to our own relatively small group of followers who know us fairly well, but to someone actively using hashtags to search for items of interest. Sign up on Tagboard, go to your dashboard there, and search for something like, oh, fiction. Or children.
I don’t know what the porn spammers think they’ll accomplish using some of the tags they use, other than to have irate parents hit that Report button over and over and over again because they were looking for activities or crafts to do with their kids, or books their kids might like – though it’s admittedly a little like playing Whack-a-Mole. To be clear, I’m no prude; it isn’t a little porn between consenting adults that had me rethinking my entire relationship to social media. I’ve been using “social media” since CompuServe created its “CB Simulator” – nothing much shocks or surprises me. I’m quite familiar with Rule 34 and I’m not humor impaired. But children and porn don’t belong on the same planet, let alone the same site. I havAnd it would be irresponsible to suggest that an author use hashtags like fiction or children when those lead down a rabbit hole to a cesspool.
One of the cruder results I found – the only one, I should say, that involved children at all – was an illustration, not a photo of people, posted on a public Facebook page with the hashtag children. It was a detailed, sexually explicit drawing involving an adult woman and two children. I reported it. Numerous Facebook friends also reported it. We all got the following reply:
Fine. Their site, their rules, right? So what’s the problem?
For one, the illustration is probably in violation of federal law, according to 18 USC Chapter 71, Sec. 1466A – Obscene Visual Representations of the Sexual Abuse of Children. It may well be in violation of international laws (it appeared to be run by someone in India and was linked to a website that contains what appear to be (much tamer) images of celebrity women.
For another, it was clearly in violation of Facebook’s own “Community Standards,” which state:
Notice that this prohibits “explicit images of sexual intercourse” and specifically includes digital content that portrays restricted forms of nudity and sexual activity. The reported illustration met those criteria.
Facebook responded to me on Twitter. And they had a whole day to think about it. In the end, the creators of the page took it down – perhaps once they realized Facebook was reviewing their content (they did remove some hardcore pornographic photos, but consistently refused to remove the most disturbing image – the one that involved children). I finally received a tepid, “We went to review this, but the page appears to have been removed before we had a chance” message. Except that they’d been reviewing individual images there for hours, so that response was nonsense.
Icing on the cake, of course, was their support of Ted Nugent’s hate-spewing, anti-Semitic rants:
Add all that onto the growing unease I’ve felt over incidents like these:
- Everything We Know About Facebook’s Secret Mood Manipulation Experiment (and the more business-centric, “what it means for you” from Forbes – where the rightfully horrified reaction from the uninformed and non-consenting “test subjects” – us – is termed a “massive freak-out”)
- Facebook and Israel: What’s Not to ‘Like’? Lots, It Seems
- and numerous users’ recent experience with Facebook’s “security” measures that fall far short of making any of us feel more secure, and act more like the malware they claim to be helping users eliminate, along with the penalties they impose on users who fail to play along and agree that they have malware
…and suddenly it’s really hard to justify turning a blind eye.
It’s not that I’m shocked or surprised there are horrible people in the world, or even that Facebook is ill-equipped or staffed to handle moderating their massive user base. Being a forum moderator is a huge and largely thankless job, and there are more pressing issues than the ones I’ve mentioned here. But the process – from reporting to review to appeal – needs an overhaul.
I thought I’d miss it. I’ve been there nearly 10 years (seems longer – that alone should tell you something), and it’s a daily habit. I have friends there that I miss already. But do I really miss Facebook? No. Not yet.
Call it my own “mood manipulation experiment” – one I’m running on me, with full knowledge and consent. I feel better, already.
UPDATE: Apparently, I have to give these up, as well: https://www.facebook.com/help/111814505650678 And just when I was giving Instagram kudos for being responsive when it came to removing inappropriate content! I’d forgotten they’re all part of the same dysfunctional famly. Oh well. There’s still Pinterest and Twitter. Right?
UPDATE II: So, Facebook’s really proud of their proactive methods of screening for and preventing child pornography: https://www.facebook.com/notes/facebook-safety/meet-the-safety-team/248332788520844/ But the comments on their post tell a different story (consistent with my experience described above).