Opinionista Marianne Thamm 3 January 2021

Social media and you: In 2021, get off the hate spectrum

The internet and social media could still be our equivalent of the Sistine Chapel — if only we understood the freedoms and agency they offer.

If you haven’t watched it yet on Netflix, Death to 2020, Charlie Brooker and Annabel Jones’s big, fat satirical stake in the heart of a torrid year should finally snap open your mental roller blinds to the grave threat that social media poses to global reason.

The mockumentary by the creator of Black Mirror is populated by a series of “experts” played by leading lights including Samuel L Jackson, Hugh Grant, Tracey Ullman, Leslie Jones and Lisa Kudrow.

In Death to 2020, voices/opinions/attitudes clamour to be heard, reflecting a world, right now, that comes together in the borderless, liminal space of “the internet” in general and social media in particular.

Here, most visibly, our deepest atavistic impulses, amplified and magnified ad infinitum by sock puppets, bots and trolls, have found shameless expression.

2020, the real year we have just survived, should provide humanity with sharpened hindsight. It was a repeated smack across the collective head by the universe.

It was Donald Trump who fashioned his own Throne of Twitter and who, perched there for four years, watching as we tore each other apart while he led from the frontline.

It felt like we were all part of a modern-age Circus Maximus.

And then, in keeping with the natural order of things, we watched as “Twitter” turned on Trump. 

After Joe Biden’s victory and Trump’s very public dissolution, Twitter itself, in response to Trump’s tweets, reminded the former president and his supporters that in the material world election officials had certified Biden as the winner of the US presidential election.

In South Africa, the Covid-19 pandemic flushed out phalanxes of the disturbed and paranoid, among them our own “friends” on Facebook.

As the great Facebook Friends and Family Purge of 2020 began to take full effect around August 2020, the trauma of the real world overwhelmed the data-driven noise.

Global hunger, racism, poverty, sickness and disease, broken health systems, bureaucratic violence, and deeply corrupt ruling political and business elites all surfaced in full view in 2020.

But the internet and social media could still be our equivalent of the Sistine Chapel — if only we understood the freedoms and agency they offer. 

And while, for now, much of the terrain has been occupied by tech overlords who trade personal data; journalists, investigators, whistle-blowers and decent, ordinary people across the world used the internet itself to expose the grifters.

In between, there were virtual street corners of teenage pop-up revolutionaries on TikTok who outwitted the president of the United States of America by jamming his booking lines for his Tulsa coronafest.

The internet is the antidote to itself if you know how to administer the dose. 

In Death to 2020, Kumail Ali Nanjiani plays “tech mogul” Bark Multiverse, CEO of Shreeker, who is so moved by Greta Thunberg’s headline address to the UN in 2019 that he buys a mountain in New Zealand and hollows it out to create a soundproof “survival bunker” only for himself.

It is here that Multiverse sits out the shitstorm.

Commenting on Thunberg, Multiverse tells the interviewer: “Usually when a child is shouting for help it is best to ignore them in case it is a trap. No less a man than Jeffrey Epstein told me that.”

We forget Epstein between Trump and Covid and collapsed economies.

Laurence Fishburne’s booming voice-over reminds viewers that “throughout 2020 the gods of Silicon Valley stand accused of allowing their products to split the world into two warring factions”.

Multiverse interrupts to correct that “actually it was four. We prefer to call it a hate spectrum, that is the official term.”

Fishburne continues quoting to Multiverse research that found that it took “about six months’ exposure [to social media] for the average person to become hopelessly radicalised”.

“I know,” says Multiverse sounding excited, “we are hoping to get that down to five minutes.”

Death to 2020 is a sanity check on a year which metaphorically tilted the axis of the globe. Never before has humanity been so united and so divided in the midst of multiple self-created crises.

We begin 2021 without Trump leading the toxic charge. But Trump, those like him and those who support him will still be around. Twitter and the rest of social media will be their rickety soapbox.

You can choose to stand among a multitude of lunatics howling at the moon or you can begin to take control of the machine and curate for yourself what it offers, beyond the algorithm which will always render you as data, a consumer.

You can walk away, it is up to you.  

You can clean up your lists, cultivate curiosity, curate and visit spaces you trust and reach out across atomised divides to turn the tide against rage, anger, idiocy and unreason. DM

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  • Hmmm… I could be wrong, but I feel like by singling out Trump and his supporters you’re still kinda missing the point you’re trying to make – maybe you too should try reaching across those divisions?

  • Kim Stanley Robinson, in his latest speculative future novel The Ministry for the Future’, imagines the possibility of AI being used to ‘make open source instruments that mimic the functions of all the big social media sites’, putting them into public ownership a a ‘commons’ and bringing about the collapse of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc.
    Worth imagining

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