Social media was supposed to lead to more thoughtful discourse. But it hasn’t turned out that way, according to Financial Times columnist Tim Harford.
“Amid the bullying, the misogyny, and the endless outrage, it’s hard to tell the bots and the people apart, largely because so many humans have lowered themselves to the level of the bots,” Harford writes.
Harford is right. We all remember the hatred that was spewed out on Facebook and other channels in the 2016 election by Russian operatives trying to interfere in our election.
It’s still going on to a degree, and it isn’t happening only in social media. Email is now a vehicle for delivering vile rhetoric while raising funds.
Worse yet, email is also used for threatening journalists, politicians and anyone else you don’t like.
Case in point: the experience of Siemens chief executive Joe Kaeser. He was sent a death threat from the email address firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reporter Stef Schrader faced a different problem. Someone maliciously signed Schrader up for dozens of email lists, and her inbox was flooded, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).
Earlier this year, CPJ surveyed reporters and found that all too many feel vulnerable.
“Ninety percent of U.S. journalists and 71 percent in Canada described online harassment as the biggest threat facing journalists today,” the CPJ writes. “And 50 percent of those surveyed said they have dealt with online threats.”
Most online threats are hollow: It’s easy to be a tough guy while seated at a computer keyboard. But there are always the one or two crazies who might follow up on a threat.
Personal danger is one thing. Then there’s the general level of cacophony, and the privacy threats inherent in online media.
“Now we carry around powerful and highly distracting devices,” Harford notes. “They observe our behavior, buzz insistently to get attention, and leverage our desire to fit in, communicate and reciprocate.”
Harford has a solution: for himself.
“I cannot break Facebook up by myself, but I can plan to do something more constructive with the time and energy I often spend on social media. I hope I am not the only one,” he writes.