When you choose to use Facebook, or any social media platform (or Internet service, really), you agree to live by rules that are as theological as they’re restrictive.
Unlike choosing or reaffirming a religious belief, however, our compacts with social media are one-sided, insomuch that we buy-in via a quick clickthrough past a long list of the purposefully undecipherable mouseprint presented to us the first time we sign on. Promises of eternal life have been replaced with unstated benefits of easier and more efficient commerce and entertainment. What we give up for these this-worldly rewards is not our souls as much as control of our lives.
Further, any new revealed truths aren’t revealed to users as much as presented so as to obscure their real intent or effect; for instance, updates to site functionality are often labelled as improvements to user “privacy,” when the rapacious recording, sharing, and subsequent exploitation of said data by the platform hosts and their commercial customers remains shrouded (and unaffected) in secrecy.
It turns out the gods of social media only talk to the anointed few.
If you choose to leave the faith, the price of apostasy is getting locked out of the life of the community of the faithful — literally — as technology has rendered even the simplest of tasks much harder (if not impossible) to accomplish without its blessings. Good luck finding or buying something if you choose to reject the watchful eye of the social pantheon. The job market is all but closed to you if you aren’t a member of the church.
The punishment for excommunication isn’t an otherworldly threat, but the reality of daily pain.
So what does this social media canon look like? Here’s my stab at its catechism:
There’s no truth — Since there is no institutional voice for value judgement, all ideas are simply neutral content, and their meaning is decided by whim and circumstance. You have bought into the premise that there’s no truth in the world, only opinion, and that yours is probably the right one. The explosion of nutty conspiracy theories about government and the world in general are simply the release of long-suppressed truths, or matters of opinion, nothing more
Yell, and ye shall be heard — The loudest, most shockingly extreme voices are the most important. You’ve decided that the world is really separated into black and white, with one “side” representing everything that is wrong in humankind, and the other all that is right. Every topic is binary in that way, even if it means excluding things like history, economics, science, or empathy.
Trust nobody, obey everyone — When in doubt, which is rare, the crowd knows best, and you only want to see information that it has vetted. Anonymous sources can work together more productively than individuals who are transparent self-identified; you don’t need to know who’s deciding for you, only that they’ve made decisions. Of course, that also includes the commercial interests that insert stuff into the conversation, too.
Cause & effect don’t exist — Actions have no consequences, so let’s say somebody organizes a riot or criminal act, they’re not responsible because the people they misled had a “choice” not to follow, and the organizer was simply expressing an opinion (and free speech is more important than anything). If something seems particularly caustic and causative, well, that’s your opinion, not recognition of qualities inherent in the statement.
You have no private life — The fact that your every click is registered and shared with any interest that can buy its way toward using that knowledge to influence your thinking or decision making is OK…the real threat to your privacy is the knowledge other users might glean about you, so you should feel threatened by your fellow users. You have no private life before the gods of social media.
What have I missed?
Perhaps the worst part of this deal is that the collection plate has been passed around many times already, only we don’t know when, how, or what we’ve contributed to it.[This essay originally appeared at A Cross of Silicon]