Get it — social networks work

Most people older than me — a shrinking group — tend to poo poo social media. In truth, I wasn’t so different. It took me a long time to get on Facebook and then promptly let my account idle. The arrival of Twitter, Snapchat, Kik, and multitude of other venues completely passed me by. I paid little attention to the hype. In fact, tweets often annoyed me when I heard of them on the TV news. Prominent personalities can be particularly annoying, offensive or dumb. Twitter is the ultimate instrument for inserting foot in mouth. As I’m learning, that is not always a bad thing, so long as you aren’t doing the inserting. My question was always, why would I want to follow this idiot, or these people and receive the BS they throw around?

Facebook, I’m told, has been taken over by old people. That’s anyone over 30 by social networking standards and may in fact be true. The “family” value of connecting across not just cities and states, but the entire world isn’t only appealing, but serves a real purpose. Many of my friends are in government service or the military, and they are scattered to the winds. Making phone calls to all of them, or sending them individual letters may be more personal, but also takes a lot of time, effort and in some cases money. A post on FB can be seen in an instant and at zero cost to either party. Granny on FB is a positive.

Among all the BS posted around the world, the internet has gems of information. YouTube — is often bashed as nothing but nonsense and wanna-be stars. There are certainly those. If you need an illustrated guide on how to fix just about anything, you can also go on you tube and find it. The problem with internet information is the volume and often the shallowness of what’s reported or demonstrated. It’s up to the viewer to educate themselves and consider other points of view. Many don’t bother. TED is another example of drops of goodness among a flood of BS. Some of the talks are inspiring and motivate, but there’s a lot of one-sided opinion as well. You the viewer must examine the depths and draw your own conclusions. Don’t let anyone on the internet tell you what is right or wrong.

Grandpa is not on Twitter, that’s not a problem, but maybe he should be. While the more ephemeral media outlets play to the shortened attention span of younger generations, they are important, nonetheless. Their ability to communicate with picture and text to an audience of potentially millions has generated major interest. People communicate and organize via these media.

Much of the vaunted “Arab Spring” (which of course was more rhetoric than substance — but that’s another topic) was driven by tweets and snaps, and FB posts. Where to go, when to be there and the resulting, often violent response, from government forces, was instantly broadcast across nations. By the time the normal news broadcasters outlets organized their response, the information was already out to the intended audience. That power to mobilize masses in short time-span would be impossible at any other time and without these networks.

Of course there’s a risk to all this posting and tweeting and chatting. Corrupting forces, ready to undermine the best of causes or steal your personal information lurk everywhere. Whether more danger comes from repressive governments or criminal actors might be worth studying. For those of us living in relative freedom, the criminal is the bigger danger. If you’re living in China, you have not just the criminals, but the government looking at your actions. That’s not a double edged sword, but two swords ready to chop you up.

Unfortunately not all the general public is just sharing their family adventures. Others are using these and more discreet channels to undermine the freedoms we take for granted. Terrorists and their inspirational gurus love the openness of western media and use them to propagate their evil vision of the world. Finding and stopping them requires an immense amount of resources no government has. The methods for hiding their message from government views is increasing as quickly as new channels are opened. Recently all the big media companies joined to try and stop posts advocating terrorism or criminal activities. That’s a huge undertaking, but one I can applaud, maybe.

Here’s the other edge of controlling content. When does a post, tweet or snap, break the boundary between my opinion and an incitement to conduct a criminal act? Who makes that determination? There are the obvious posts that threaten the lives of specific persons. That’s pretty clear. But is someone’s wish to live in Sharia law an indication of terrorism? Maybe. Is a rant against the Muslim terrorists a threat to peace? Maybe. Drawing the line isn’t that easy.

On the purely criminal side, there are those who sift through the Internet, especially on social networks with exacting care. Phishing, spear phishing, and whale phishing are just a few examples of threats to your personal information. For every piece of software, is some malware trying to infiltrate your computer. Bad actors are trying to steal your credit cards and to your life. They want to know when you’re not home and they can come clean out your house. Banking on-line is easy until your bank loses 8 billion dollars to criminals, robbing you from their computer. It used to be that a man with a briefcase stole more money than any man with a gun. The briefcase is now the laptop computer or maybe even just a tablet. All made possible by our desire to be connected to the world.

Despite all this, I’m an advocate of connecting. Not long ago a song came out reminding us to look up from our screens every now and then. The sentiment wasn’t wrong, but there are also good reasons to look down. Many in my age group or older point to a time when they had few close friends, but saw them daily. They praise the deep conversations and shared emotions when face to face. These are all valuable experiences to be cherished. The world has changed, however. The internet is everywhere and until the aliens take back their toys (see “The World’s End” movie), it will be here. You don’t need it. Nobody needs it. You shouldn’t ignore it, but take advantage of the things it offers. You can still have those close, intimate face to face conversations. Nothing is stopping you. You should add all those on-line conversations to it.

There’s a lot of discussion among shrinks whether or not being on-line is good or bad for people. Then they log into their digital accounts to make sure their getting paid. After that they move on to download the latest journal from another author on how to treat..being on-line.

Please feel free to leave a comment or send me a note. I will respond shortly or perhaps post another item. Thanks for reading.