social media

You can go now…

We had a pretty dull long weekend. Bill had Friday off because of the Fourth of July, but we didn’t end up doing anything special, despite Bill’s best efforts to get me out of the house. However, I did have a good guitar day yesterday, which I wrote about on my travel blog. My travel blog, by the way, is going to wake up again soon, because I have booked a short trip that starts in eleven days. We will spend three nights in the Eifel region of the Mosel Valley, which is about a two hour drive from where we live. There’s a lot of stuff to do outdoors, so I think we’ll be busy, especially if the weather is good. Bill has been a good sport about my stubborn refusal to venture out, although I think he’s feeling kind of tense.

I’ve mostly been trying to stay out of trouble on social media, although I’m still thinking that it may be time to move on from it. Last night, Red Peters, a hilarious comedian who writes and sings funny songs and promotes the songs done by other people, got really pissed off by one of Facebook’s recent censorship policies. He says he’s going to get off of Facebook by September 1st. I can’t blame him, as I was also recently wrist slapped by Facebook over something really stupid. Maybe I’ll follow suit… or maybe not. But one thing is for certain. Facebook may be a way to keep in touch with friends and family, but it’s also the source of a whole lot of annoyances.

Take, for instance, a recent trend I’ve noticed. Sometimes my “friends” send me private messages. The messages are almost never about anything important. They’re often videos or memes that, for whatever reason, they don’t want to post on their own page, and sometimes they send them without comment. Or they put them on their page, but they also send them via PM to their friends. Personally, I don’t like this practice. I understand that some people do it because it’s something obnoxious or controversial and they only want to share it with people who will appreciate it and not start a shit storm. I get that, and I do have a couple of friends who are very civilized, but have a good sense of humor and they know I’ll think something’s funny and even share it for them.

But– I also sometimes get these PMs from people I don’t know that well and/or engage with often. Sometimes, they’re the annoying “pass it on” posts– you know, like the ones that tell you to post what color your bra is (I rarely wear them anymore unless I’m going out). It’s supposed to be for breast cancer awareness, but it’s really just a stupid timewaster that doesn’t really do anything more than irritate people. Below is an excerpt about the bra campaign from a book entitled Online Activism: Social Change Through Social Media:

Yes, I got these messages. No, I did not participate.

Sometimes they’re just memes or videos sent without comment. If the sender is someone I know well and/or have engaged with more than a couple of times, I may have an inkling as to why they sent the message. Maybe I’ll even care enough to ask them. I still think it’s an irritating practice to PM these things, mainly because I think private messages should be reserved for items that really should be kept private and are actually important. Memes and videos don’t generally fall into those categories. Still, I’m more willing to cut more slack to people I know than people I don’t.

Last night, someone sent me this meme without comment:

How should I take this?

The person who sent this is a nurse. We “met” on a site for second wives and stepmothers, and there was a time when we interacted frequently. She lives far away from me, even when I’m stateside, so we have never met offline. Lately, we haven’t been chatting much at all. So last night, when I got a PM from her out of the blue, and it turned out to be the above image, I wasn’t sure how to take it. I’ve repeatedly stated that I’m not on the mask bandwagon. However, that doesn’t mean I don’t comply with the rules, nor does it mean that I don’t take the pandemic seriously. I SIMPLY STAY AT HOME. While I go many days between mask wearings, I also don’t go to places where I encounter people who could be adversely affected by my germs. On the rare occasions when I do go out, I follow the rules. I just don’t like or agree with them. Fair enough?

Lots of people disagree with me about the masks, and that’s fine. I figure that if I’m mostly staying at home, I’m probably doing more than they are to flatten the curve, anyway. The world doesn’t need me to preach about face masks. Plenty of people are already doing that repeatedly and annoyingly. I don’t need to add my voice to the cacophony. I don’t need to cheerlead about the masks, even if they do help slow the spread of the virus. They still suck. Nothing about wearing a mask is fun, and most people have the right and ability to make up their own minds about them. They don’t need my help any more than I need theirs.

Because there was no comment with my friend’s “meme”, and I have no idea if this person has been paying attention to my social media, I wondered if she thought I would like the meme, or if it was a dig. I suppose I could have responded to her. Maybe that would have been the right thing to do. Ultimately, I decided that the face mask meme wasn’t something I care that much about, so I didn’t comment. But since this is a common practice– for people to send unimportant stuff via PM without comment– I decided to ask my Facebook friends why people do it. I don’t PM people unless I have something important to tell them privately, but people PM me all the time. I try to be tolerant, but I must admit I get annoyed, and I just wanted to understand the rationale behind the PM blitzing. Some of my “regular” friends were having a nice discussion with me, with a few people agreeing with me that this is an annoying practice.

And then, I got a message from someone else I “met” on the same site for second wives and stepmothers. This person, who is now no longer a friend, probably interacted with me more often than the person who sent the meme, but we still didn’t talk much. When we did regularly used to communicate some years ago, we often disagreed.

For instance, she didn’t like that I was vocal about my disdain for Mormonism. She said it was “disrespectful”, although she isn’t herself LDS. I disagreed, since the LDS church was successfully used as a weapon against Bill’s relationship with his children, and that’s a problem that affects many people. She felt that I shouldn’t say out loud that I don’t like Mormonism, out of respect to a Mormon woman who was also in our group. The Mormon woman, by the way, was more than capable of sticking up for herself and her religion, and she did so vehemently and consistently. Besides, I felt that the purpose of the group was to discuss these issues and how they affect “steplife”. Like it or not, a highly controlling lifestyle religion like Mormonism does affect things, particularly when not everyone involved is LDS. But this now former friend felt I was out of line to bring it up, or she felt the way I brought it up was unkind. She had no trouble telling me so, even though it didn’t really change my opinion or behavior. She didn’t seem too interested in seeing my perspective, either.

Anyway, beyond that squabbling, which we hadn’t been doing in recent years, we rarely had much to say to each other, especially currently. Neither of us has a lot of steplife drama anymore. But she still felt the need to add her two cents to last night’s discussion.

She posted: Man, I never wanted to PM unexplained memes so badly in my life….

Again…. not really sure how to take this. So I posted that I would like to turn off the PM function entirely, or make it for certain people, to which she responded with a “laughing” reaction. At that point, I assumed that she was making a passive aggressive dig and trying to stir up shit. I figured that if she has something to say to me, but can’t be bothered to just say it, we probably aren’t really friends. Since I didn’t know how to take her comments, we were never close, and I don’t remember ever being particularly close to her even when we did used to frequently communicate, I decided to delete her.

I felt badly about it for a minute, because I grew up at a time when friends were people you knew face to face, and “unfriending” someone was a serious thing. But back then, being friends with someone was also a more serious thing; that’s why we mostly tended to have fewer of them then than we do now, in the age of social media.

As I recently wrote in a post, I’m getting to a point in my life at which I value quality over quantity. A lot of people don’t like me. Many people decide they don’t like me having never taken the time to get to know me. That’s up to them, of course, and I’ve gotten used to it. I still have some great people in my life who do love me for who I am and don’t mind that I speak my mind. We treat each other with basic respect and give each other the right to be heard. We don’t try to stir up drama on each other’s social media accounts or offline. And when we have something to say, we say it. We don’t do immature passive aggressive digs or make fun of each other. Those aren’t things a real friend does.

I’ve spent most of my life being discounted, belittled, berated, ignored and crapped on by people who don’t have any respect for me, some of whom were supposedly “loved ones”. Right now, things are stressful enough as it is. I figure at this point in my life, I don’t have to tolerate it anymore, especially from people I barely know. And, like I said, I’m getting pretty tired of Facebook, anyway. Maybe after we get our next dog, I’ll ditch it once and for all. Dogs are better and more genuine friends than most people are, anyway.

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social media

Well… that didn’t last long.

A couple of days ago, a friend invited me to join a group for military spouses against racism. I hesitated for about a day before I accepted the invite. It’s not that I’m against fighting racism. I do think it’s a serious problem and I am always open to learning new ways to be a better person. I like being in groups where resources are shared and people can discuss things openly and calmly. At first, it looked like that group might turn into something useful and good.

Nevertheless, I still hesitated joining. I was right to hesitate. In my experience, Facebook groups, especially those involving the U.S. military, tend to degrade very quickly. In the past, I have hung on in those types of groups for much longer than I should have, trying to take what was good and leaving the rest. But I am now at a point in my life at which I don’t want to waste any time on bullshit. While that group started out pretty well, this morning I could see that it was rapidly turning into a shitstorm. 2020 is one big shitstorm on its own. I don’t need any more thrown at me on social media.

In this case, the shitstorm was prompted when an admin posted that the word “picnic” is a derogatory, racist term. I was a bit perplexed by that revelation. I had never heard of “picnic” being offensive. It’s used a lot in Germany. It’s generally a term used to describe dining al fresco, often while sitting on a blanket with a basket full of food.

There’s even a play called Picnic, that I remember being performed at my college when I was a freshman. Longwood University, then called Longwood College, has a long history in the fight against racism. It’s located in the town of Farmville in Prince Edward County, Virginia, the location of one of the worst resistances of massive integration in U.S. history. Prince Edward County is also the location of a well-known fight for civil rights. From the link:

During the 20th century, Prince Edward was the center both of one of America’s worst episodes of massive resistance and one of the bravest moments of the Civil Rights struggle. In 1951, the student-led strike at Moton High School, organized by then-16 year old Barbara Johns, produced the majority of plaintiffs in Brown v. Board of Education. The public schools, however, were closed for five years beginning in 1959 rather than integrated. And yet it was here also, four decades later, that a majority of voters opted to make Douglas Wilder the first African-American to be elected governor in any state in all of American history – yes, that happened in Virginia.

I couldn’t imagine my racially conscious college putting on a play called Picnic if the word “picnic” is racist. I decided to look up the history of the word to find out if it was, in fact, derogatory. What I found out is that for the past twenty years or so, there’s been an urban legend going around the Internet claiming that “picnic” is a racist term. However, the story about “picnic” being offensive is false. The word was first used in France in the late 1600s. It was first used in English in 1748, and in those days, it had no racial connotations whatsoever.

So how did this rumor get started? Well, it seems that back in the days when lynchings were completely acceptable, some white people would have a picnic while they watched. It was entertaining for them to watch black people being lynched. They’d eat, drink, and be merry. At some point, the word was supposedly bastardized to mean “pic-a-nig”, or so I learned as I read that thread, which eventually swelled to over 250 comments before I finally decided to leave the group. Because some people “picnicked” while lynching people, somehow there were people who felt that the term “picnic” should always refer to the practice of white people having an outdoor gathering involving food while watching black people being murdered in the most horrifying ways.

Some people correctly pointed out that the word “picnic” isn’t a racist term. They provided the usual links to proof– and the links were good ones, from legitimate academic sources, as well as popular and reputable sites like Snopes.com and Politifact. But the person who started the thread soon became very agitated and, though she was an “admin” for the group, sank into name calling. She repeatedly called one articulate poster a “Karen” (and if you read this blog, you probably already know how I feel about that) and accused her of being “passive aggressive”, a term which I have a feeling she can’t accurately define. I watched her escalate the situation more and more with some concern. Other posters were calling her out for being immature, but she insisted that she was just calling people out for being “racially insensitive” because people were refusing to agree with her that the word “picnic” is triggering and they didn’t want one more word to be considered “bad” due to racism. It seems like people who are against racism would want to see fewer offensive words rather than more words– but here they were, arguing over whether an innocuous word should be deemed “offensive” due to what some people did during lynchings.

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you might also know how I feel about burying language and symbols. I understand why people think it’s the right thing to do. It’s certainly easier to ban words and symbols than it is to reclaim them and encourage people to change their attitudes and enlighten themselves. However, it’s been my experience that when people ban words and symbols, new ones tend to crop up. Moreover, by banning a so-called “offensive” word, you still haven’t dealt with the negative attitude that led up to its creation. It’s more like an “out of sight, out of mind” solution that only hides the problem instead of fixing it.

On my original blog, I once wrote a post about an argument I got into with a guy who insisted to me that it’s offensive to use a word like “niggardly” when describing one’s money habits. Niggardly, by the way, is NOT at all a racist term. It has nothing to do with racism, doesn’t have the same etymology as the racist term “nigger”, nor is it even spelled like the racist epithet. The guy who was arguing with me is a teacher, and he has a habit of being very overbearing with his views. I don’t like overbearing people, probably due to my own personality quirks. His “style” was not making me want to change my opinions, yet he kept hammering away at me, insisting that people have the right to be offended by the word “niggardly” because it sounds like a racist epithet. And rather than encouraging people to educate themselves so they won’t be offended when no offense is intended, he thinks we all should just quit using that word. I didn’t appreciate his heavy handed approach. I found it disrespectful and disdainful. It didn’t make me inclined to listen to or consider his viewpoint.

I will grant that there are other words that mean the same as niggardly does. We could all just say “stingy” or “miserly”. It basically means that a person is tight with their money, and there are other ways to say that without using a word that sounds so close to an insult. And frankly, if I were a teacher, I would absolutely encourage my students to choose a less controversial word simply because it’s better to avoid an unnecessary fight with someone who has a less developed vocabulary. However, I would also want them all to know that the word is not akin to the “n bomb”, and that if they see or hear it, they should not take offense if it’s being used properly. It’s not an insulting word, even if it does sound like a word that is very insulting.

I feel the same way about the term “picnic”. If you feel better calling an outdoor gathering involving food a barbecue or a cookout, by all means, call it by those terms. But I also want people to know that if the word “picnic” is considered racist by some people, it’s because it was wrongly hijacked. Its original meaning had nothing to do with racism. And I don’t think it’s right to give bad people the power to change language in that way. Why should we? It’s not the word that’s “bad”. It’s the asshole who is using language to be hurtful and demeaning that is “bad”. Words are neutral.

I’m still with George. It’s best not to hurt people with words, but the words themselves are neutral. It’s the asshole who is saying them that needs to be dealt with, and that’s a lot harder than banning “bad words”. It’s the CONTEXT that makes them good or bad.

I didn’t like the way the admin, who by the time I left the group had been stripped of her admin powers, was insulting and berating people. I also noticed that she wasn’t the only one engaging in that behavior. The attacking and uncivilized behavior was distasteful to me, and some of it seemed like it would cause more problems than it solved. I felt my stress levels rise just reading everything and seeing all of the visuals… and I wasn’t even involved in 99% of what was being shared in there.

For instance, I noticed one member had posted screenshots of an American man who works in a German military town. The guy has responsibilities in a major military facility, but his personal views are on naked display. He used monkeys to make his point– the old “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” illustration, which commonly uses “three wise monkeys”, a concept that originated in Japan. Someone in the group determined that the mere use of monkeys was inherently racist and people were talking about trying to get him fired. While I personally disagreed with what I saw on his page, I also think there’s a fine line between calling out racism and ruining people’s lives by threatening their livelihoods.

There are real costs associated with call out culture and mob mentality. The aftereffects of publicly shaming people and making them infamous don’t always just affect the perpetrators; they also harm people associated with them, some of whom are completely innocent, and cause the problem to get worse. Imagine if the guy they were discussing so fervently has young children. These women go after this guy’s job by making an “ICE” complaint. The many complaints cause the man to lose his job, and his family eventually spirals into poverty that leads to other serious family issues like divorce or alcoholism. The young children grow up in that bad environment, and hear about how it happened. How do you think that might affect how they view military wives, particularly those of color? Will they be grateful that someone took a stand and made the guy pay for posting the three wise monkey emojis, even if what he wrote wasn’t particularly racist in nature? Or will they be angry that a group targeted their father and caused his life to go south, thereby causing their lives to go south, too?

I think most people respond better to kindness, reasonableness, and understanding than they do shaming, insulting, threatening, and attacking. I was hoping that group would be a place where people could have intelligent discussions without fear of being attacked or insulted. Unfortunately, I saw evidence that what was originally intended to be a place for sharing ideas and understanding had turned into the usual military wives Facebook group, with lots of people immediately adopting an adversarial tone rather than taking a moment to collect themselves and giving people the benefit of the doubt. And frankly, I’m just too old, crotchety, and impatient for those kinds of groups anymore. So I will continue to do my best to educate myself outside of that group. It’s probably better for my mental health. Maybe I am a “Karen” after all.

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