A lot of broadsheet writers bang on about how damaging social networking sites are: how Facebook and Twitter are pasting your street address and bank details online, exposing your children to predatory sex offenders, allowing the government to watch you take a shit in the morning, contributing to an increasingly consumerist and atomised society, and gradually eating your mortal soul. Suzanne Moore’s piece in the Hate and Fear is therefore quite refreshing:
As a journalist, I am a fan of both Facebook and Twitter and am rather bored of people telling me that I shouldn’t be talking to people I don’t know in real life. I am not five, living in a world of ‘stranger danger’. Yes it’s true some people do tweet every time they have tea, but others can inform you of events or just make you laugh. Facebook is great for exchanging music. On Twitter, no news exclusive remains so for more than about two minutes. If I want to know what’s happening, I find it faster than all the major news sites.
Again I am amazed at the uses to which it can be put. Some genius people are writing 140-character haikus. Some are tweeting their brains out. Some comics are rehearsing their one-liners. One may sit back and watch a wave of outrage come and go.
Over the past year I have seen relationships form and fail, celebrities unravel, chatted to politicians and musical heroes of mine. I have frequently asked for technical advice because I am remarkably thick about how any of it actually works. I have found out what life is like for someone in Kabul and followed a photographer who was tweeting for help when the Redshirts were being shot in Thailand.
When I lost my passport in Cambodia I turned to Twitter. And I received help from people in Phnom Penh, friends at home and a man from Channel 4 News. You can ask Twitter to recommend a nice pub or walk. Just now I asked it what to do with kale and now have lots of weird and wonderful kale recipes.
Don’t tell me this is somehow not the real world. It is an enhancement of it and those who I have met through social media have been a delight. The notion that one may be too busy recording and recounting one’s experience to be actually enjoying the moment is being tested. If we feel that nothing is happening unless it is witnessed then this is indeed a massive shift in consciousness.
There’s a human dimension here that Suzanne’s missing. We associate Facebook with cyber bullying and stalking, but it can also be a place for moments of real human kindness. There’s the birthday greetings all over my wall that I get every single year. Plus, I lost a cat in early August (‘let God have his own cat!’ the little girl shouts in Pet Sematary, ‘I want my cat!’) and the day after he died, I put a photo of him on my wall, and got loads of supportive comments.
I would also add that social networking is also something that connects the poor and vulnerable to the rest of the world. Not everyone on a low income can get online, but those who can generally see easier access to public services and will pay less for goods and services. An old friend of mine, who is a single parent, used social networks for psychic support in the early years of motherhood. Lack of money and childcare destroyed her social life for a while and it was a real boost, alone at the weekend, to be able to chat to friends on the Facebook newsfeed. If you’re lonely, it can feel like the rest of the world has just stopped existing, it’s a scary feeling, and just to see evidence that people are out there and alive really makes a difference. As Suzanne says, this is not an alternative, it’s an enhancement – and it can also be a lifeline.