Greta spots the obvious, months later

And now for a bit of hilarity.

Greta Christina has a new post at Freethought Blogs.

Not everyone uses social media the same way.

I would have thought this was obvious. But it seems not to be. So here comes the measured rant.

There’s this pattern I’ve been seeing for a while. I keep seeing people pay intense, microscopically-close attention to other people’s behavior on social media. I don’t mean “things people say on social media”: I mean their behavior. Who are they friends with? Who are they not friends with? Who did they un-friend or un-follow or block? What posts did they like or share or re-Tweet? What posts did they not like or share or re-Tweet? A lot of people pay intense, microscopically-close attention to this social media behavior — and then tie it in with a micro-analysis of the thoughts and feelings and intentions that supposedly lie behind it. People make assumptions about shifting alliances, secretly-held opinions, behind-the-scenes machinations — based entirely on this friending and unfriending, this blocking and un-blocking, these likes and dislikes. I’ve started calling it “reading the Facebook tea leaves.”

Why yes, yes they do.

Like, for instance, the way they did that about me, just three short months ago – the way they went trawling through a large busy Facebook group to record the few comments I had made there, and even what I had Liked there, and used that as items in long wordy prosecutorial venomous accusations against me. Why, even some of Greta Christina’s very own friends and colleagues at Freethought Blogs did that. Greta herself blocked me on Facebook at that time, presumably partly because of that very trawling through my Facebook activity. Greta was vocally and explicitly happy to see the way our colleagues were trashing me on their blogs, partly on the basis of that creepy intrusive secret-police-like trawling through my Facebook. So this post strikes me as very funny – and, of course, disgusting.

Not everyone uses social media the same way.

Some people use social media more for their personal lives, to stay connected with friends and family. Some people use it more professionally, to promote their work or do research or maintain professional connections. Some people have a couple hundred friends, or fewer, mostly or entirely their actual friends. Some people have hundreds or thousands of “friends”: their actual friends, plus colleagues, neighbors, friends of friends of friends, people they met at a party or a conference that one time, people they friended because they made a funny comment on someone else’s page, pretty much anyone who sends a friend request.

Some people “like” pretty much everything they see on their feed. Some people “like” only things they feel strong agreement or affinity with. Some people “like” posts to express agreement or support. Some people “like” posts to keep track of the thread, so they’ll get notifications when new comments appear. Some people share or re-Tweet only when they agree with something. Some people share or re-Tweet to increase the visibility of ugly opinions they think people are ignoring or denying.

True. So where was all this last July and August? Nowhere, that’s where.

So it’s a really, REALLY bad idea to make assumptions about people’s thoughts and feelings and intentions, their shifting alliances and secretly-held opinions and behind-the-scenes machinations, based solely on what they like or don’t like on social media, who they are and aren’t “friends” with, who they do and don’t “follow.”

Uh huh. Well spotted. Shrewd observation. Cool that it’s safe for you to make it now.

Again, I’m not talking about the things people actually say on social media. The words that come out of people’s mouths and fingers are, I think, a pretty reasonable guide to at least some of their thoughts and feelings and intentions. But when it comes to the other ways people use social media — liking and friending and following and blocking and the rest of it — can we please quit using it to decipher hidden meanings? Can we please quit trying to read the tea leaves? They’re a crappy news source, about as reliable as the National Enquirer. And trying to read them just adds more misinformation, more paranoia, more general noise, to an Internet that seriously doesn’t need any more.

Well done, Greta. Really, really well done – saying it now, instead of saying it last summer when it might possibly have gotten through to some people. You self-important coward.

85 Responses to “Greta spots the obvious, months later”