observations thought fodder

Facebook Is Our New Town Square

Facebook meme regarding U.S. politics in the time of Trump, 2017.
Facebook meme regarding U.S. politics in the time of Trump, 2017.

I promised a second blog post that was inspired by this Facebook meme. Here it is.

As much as we might hate it, Facebook has become our new town square. Starting in this last U.S. pre-election cycle, political posts overtook Facebook as individuals shared their views and tried to sway family, friends and co-workers  with their opinions. Often, nasty things were said. Post-election, the political sharing has become more intense as citizens attempt to figure out how to stop totalitarianism from overtaking our government. It’s enough to drive us all batty. Can’t we move the politics somewhere else and keep Facebook fun?

Probably not. Not until we create a new social media venue that does what Facebook used to do. (Google+, anyone?)

When social media venues are created, their founders have a particular vision for them. Facebook was originally targeted solely at college students. Once it was opened up to all ages, college students left in droves, abandoning active participation in the site and letting their parents use it for sharing photos, family news and other personal stuff. The longer social media venues stick around, the more likely people are to adapt them for alternative purposes, depending on the needs of society. The “Golden Age” of Facebook, when it was all dinner photos, lighthearted memes, pet pics, games, and personal info (and just a little advertising) seems to be vanishing, a slim span of time within the venue’s history.

Blogs have suffered the same fate. When blogging apps were the primary means of sharing personal thoughts online (pre-Facebook), there was a great outpouring of creativity put into them and loose communities of bloggers banded together. I still have friends from this golden age of blogging and sometimes pine for those days. Like Facebook, this era of blogging didn’t last very long. Blogging tools were co-opted by journalists and other organizations, along with professional bloggers who figured out how to monetize their blogs by writing practical business-related articles. Bye, bye, personal blogging.

Why has Facebook become our town square, rather than some other venue?

Because, of all the social media apps available to us, Facebook is the one with the most users, period. It’s easy for anyone to post to Facebook and easy for one’s family and friends to follow along. People have a burning desire to be heard, particularly over matters of importance to them. We have very few places “in real life” where we are allowed to have that voice.

Think about this for a moment. Few towns have active town squares anymore, places where people can congregate to share their views or make a point. Most cities have ordinances limiting this sort of activity in public parks. Our public schools (K-12) have actively discouraged students from speaking their minds for the good of order. Churches, which have served to bring like-minded people together, are dwindling in members and attendance. Businesses make for haphazard meet-up places because they are private property. Also, they aren’t usually conducive to large gatherings. Public meetings are highly controlled affairs, wherein whoever set the agenda keeps the public following along, with little time for unbridled citizen commentary.

Further, Republicans in several states are pushing laws to remove our ability to protest in public on the streets. Minnesota, where I live, is one such state. (Read more about this at Nonprofit Quarterly.) They cite public safety. “Hey, people are dying in ambulances because protesters are blocking streets! We’ve got to do something!” Have we seen solid figures on how many people are dying because emergency personnel can’t get through a protest area? What about regular traffic jams, which happen daily on interstates? I’ve been in jams on I-94 where emergency vehicles are trapped. Do we ticket every vehicle on the road in these situations because public safety?

But, I digress. (Still, before allowing legislators to curtail your First Amendment rights for supposed public safety, ask them some hard questions. Like, who paid for the streets and where are we allowed to protest that is public and visible?)

Facebook "Raging Carnival" meme.
Facebook “Raging Carnival” meme.

And, here we have it, the real reason Facebook has become our town square. Because we have no other place to discuss and share topics of dire importance to us. We have put ourselves into comfortable cocoons behind our computer screens, our physical social spaces disappearing because it’s too hard to get out of the house. We’ve been working all day. We’re tired. We want to rest, not worry about politics. (We’re happy to let government run in the background, like the furnace.)

Except that our government has now been overtaken by an authoritarian leader and his minions, all of whom are rapidly working to erode this representative democracy so that it is no longer “of the people, by the people, for the people.” We’re taking to Facebook to trade news on the latest outrage perpetrated on the American people. We’re looking for ideas on how to cope and prevent falling into despair. We’re sharing thoughts on how the administration’s new policies will affect us personally. We’re encouraging each other to take action. And we’re seeking solace in the fact that people continue to post about friends, families, pets, dinner, art, music, culture, nature, and events … all the things that make our American way of life worth fighting for.

Facebook is the town square we desperately need right now.

If it gets to be too much, as it has for me, take a break from the Facebook chaos and meet up with someone in real life. This article has some good tips for coping: How to #StayOutraged Without Losing Your Mind: Self-Care Lessons for the Resistance.

Or, seriously, check out Google+. 😉

Cartoon - Well-informed versus remaining sane, found on Facebook, 2017.
Cartoon – Well-informed versus remaining sane, found on Facebook, 2017.