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8/4/13

The Writing on the Wall: How Facebook is destroying our capacity for political debate

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TheWritingontheWall:HowFacebookisdestroyingourcapacityfor politicaldebate
TheincreasingtrendforFacebookuserstosharepremadeimageswithopinionsattachedisencouragingustoadoptastranger'sagendawholesaleand withoutquestion,arguesJacobMertens.
BY JACOB MERTENS PUBLISHED 03 AUGUST 2013 11:18

Enterthismonth'slasereyesurgerydrawtoday.

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TherehasbeenatrenddevelopingonFacebookforawhilenow, perhapsyou'veseenit.Afriendofyours,oranacquaintance,ora cherishedinternetconfrerewhoyoudonotspeakwithintherealworld keepssharingviralphotoswithallcapped,blocklettersthatproclaim somedeeplyfeltpoliticalorreligiousconviction.However,theseimages havebeenliftedfromsomewhereelsethewordsdonotbelongtothem, yetthroughtheinsistenceoftheFacebooksharebuttonitisasifthey do.Ihaveafriendjustlikethis,andhiswalliscoveredwiththese photosasifhisbeliefscouldandshouldbereducedtothesophistication ofanadvertisement.Morethananything,themanicenergyhedevotesto thistaskstrikesmeasaneasywayout.Thereisnoeffortinconstructing hisopinions,norealthoughtprocess.Instead,hecreatesandbroadcasts hisidentitywiththeclickofamouse.Monthslater,theseminiature soapboxesofappropriatedmeaningwillvanishandbereplacedbya hundredmore,andthethoughtswillberevealedforwhattheyare:less thansmoke. Intruth,muchhasbeenmadeaboutsocialmedia'sabilitytotruncate Since the only option is to "like" something, Facebook narrows the options of debate. Photo: Getty politicalmeaning(andothermeanings,certainly)attheexpenseofindepthdiscussion.Here,though,weobserveadifferentanimal,becausewhilethere appearstobethemakingsofaconversationatplaywiththeseposts,it'saruse.ThroughFacebook,individualscanadoptanother'spoliticalorspiritual agendawholesale,sidesteppingthehardworkofcultivatingtheirownbeliefsandeffectivelydemolishinganychanceforopencommunication.Thistrend isuniqueintheworldofsocialmedia,thoughthedrivingforceofconvenienceremainsunchanged.Incontrast,Twitter'sguidelinesdictatethatanidea thriveswithintheconfinesof140charactersstill,theideagenerallyremainsuniquetotheindividual.Retweetsmakeforcloserbrethren,butevensothey arepostedwiththeunderstandingofanother'sspecificidentitybehindthem.Ontheotherhand,onemightarguethatwebsiteslikeTumblrallowa similarlyshallowrepresentationofanindividual,inwhichuserscraftpiecemealidentitiessolelythroughpictures,asifapicturecouldevertellthewhole story.Nevertheless,itisFacebookalonethatpropagatesthedistinctillusionofshareddialogue. TherearehundredsofFacebookgroupsdedicatedtothetaskofdistributingtheseimages,anduserssharethemontheirwallsbythethousands. Meanwhile,oneoftheonlywaystointeractwiththesephotosisto"like"them,whichFacebookfriendsandfamiliarsagreetoindroves,givingpossibly lessthoughttotheirflimsyallegiancethanittooktoredistributetheimageinthefirstplace.Andwhileastringofcomments,heldto50inasetand stretchingformiles,mayalludetosomekindofcommentary,theresrarelyatangiblewaytobuildonthesethoughtsandprovokemeaningfulreflection orinsight.Instead,achaoticchattergiveswayandlikemindedindividuals,andtheoccasionaldissentingpariah,fightforattention,swarmingbeneaththe imagelikeantsandseemingjustasrelevant.Ultimately,theresultofallthissharinganddiscussingisakindofhybridhivemindinwhichclaritycan onlybefoundthroughblindloyalty,throughpostinganimageandlettingitspeakforyou. It'ssosimpletoletsomeoneelsesaythesewords,toforgothoughtfulconsiderationforeaseofdelivery.Whathappenstous,asapeople,whenwelet ourselvesthinklikethis,beitconsciouslyorunconsciously?There'sareasonpeopleavoidsubjectsofpoliticsandreligion,theyaresupposedtobe intenselypersonal.Andyet,somehow,wehavebeguntorelegatetheseissuestoacommonunifiedlanguagethatremainsunalterable.Wenolonger botherourselveswithlong,drawnoutconversationsthatgiveroomforchallengingandreconsideringouruniquelyimpassionedbeliefs.Weopt,instead, toletanangry,subcaptioneddiatribebeneathaphotooragraphdoalltheheavylifting.Andbeyondtheforfeitureofourownuniqueandmutable

newstatesman.com/uk-politics//writing-wall-how-facebook-destroying-our-capacity-political-debate

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8/4/13

The Writing on the Wall: How Facebook is destroying our capacity for political debate

personalities,considerthatapictureisunmoving,afixedimagethatlacksplasticity.Apicturealoneshouldnotbelefttospeakathousandwords. SpecialOffer: Get12issuesofNewStatesmanmagazineforjust12

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