I am having a phase of withdrawal from Facebook, and social media in general.
While the main reason for this is that I want to avoid wasting time on pointless browsing and facile discussions, I think that there is also another, deeper motivation – the amount of hostility and verbal violence I see there disturbs me. Each and every opinion running counter to one’s political philosophy is a reason for some people to simply attack the proponent of that opinion in the vilest terms (that this is done mostly by conservatives is no surprise).
Vigorous debates with people arguing on both sides of a question is the sign of a healthy democratic society, and is to be encouraged. However, our so-called media debates focus entirely on personalities, and all arguments are ad hominem. For example, when Kamal, a prominent leftist movie director from Kerala criticised the actor Suresh Gopi’s decision to join the Hindu right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party, he was immediately targeted as a Muslim on social media (his full name is Kamaluddin, which was used throughout the posts insulting him to pinpoint his religion). In such a scenario, any healthy debate becomes impossible, and the core issue is bypassed.
Another worrying factor is the “information” shared by people on FB as though this were the gospel truth. Half-truths, hearsay, urban legends and outright slander are posted by amateurs who want to play investigative journalist. This is immediately shared enthusiastically by their friends and people of a similar political persuasion until they attain a certain veracity in the minds of the uninformed, who never bother to check the credentials of the original poster. (On the converse side, experts who are quoted on FB are sometimes attacked – I saw a post in which the poster urged the eminent historian Dr. M. G. S. Narayanan to go and learn history!)
Social media can be a live force – in the recent Jisha murder case in Kerala, outrage on FB caused police to wake up and launch an investigation with vigour. But more often than not, it degenerates into a town square where bullies slug it out.
My reason for withdrawal is not that I am afraid of the bullies. I am afraid that, the more I interact, I will slowly turn into one of them.