The recent enforced Facebook abstinence has made Caroline Roddis wonder. Would she be better off in a world without social media giants?
I’m writing this at a time when Facebook doesn’t exist. I don’t mean that I’ve travelled back in time to January 2004, before the social media platform was launched, but rather that thanks to a server error—or possibly just someone spilling coffee on to a keyboard—the entire site is currently offline. (To be honest, if I had time-travelled, I’d probably be too busy memorising lottery numbers, buying stocks and shares and having a serious chat with my younger self about putting pen to paper…)
For some in the UK, the enforced break from Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp is a moment of much-needed quiet, and to most it’s something barely even worthy of notice. For a few individuals, however, it appears to be like suddenly losing an arm.
One of my friends lasted about an hour before cracking and signing up for Twitter and TikTok, so desperate was she to have a way of broadcasting to the outside world, in a way that made me genuinely worry about how she will cope if the sites have been deleted for good. And with reports of people dialling 999 to report the issue, she’s clearly not the only one we need to worry about.
This time has also made me think about how much of our lives we all now spend creating ‘content’, managing our profiles and putting up with the comments of random strangers on all sorts of issues. What would it feel like if all that effort, all those connections and arguments and memories were permanently erased in circumstances beyond our control? Would we be bereft, or would we adjust and discover a calmer and more meaningful life?
If you’d told me in 2004 that people would spend a significant percentage of their waking hours glued to tiny screens and obsessing about the number of likes on their social media posts, I would have instantly assumed it was a vision of a dystopian future that had to be stopped at all costs.
And in fairness, if you’ve been following the recent articles in the Wall Street Journal about the problems it claims are caused—and then ignored—by Facebook and the companies it owns, there is definitely a dystopian flavour. Writing about research documents produced by Facebook itself on the negative effects of its platforms, the WSJ reported: “‘We make body image issues worse for one in three teen girls,’ said one slide from 2019, summarising research about teen girls who experience the issues.
“‘Teens blame Instagram for increases in the rate of anxiety and depression,’ said another slide. This reaction was unprompted and consistent across all groups. Among teens who reported suicidal thoughts, 13% of British users and 6% of American users traced the desire to kill themselves to Instagram, one presentation showed.”
Facebook, meanwhile, claims that the publication’s articles are both wrong and unfair to its staff, who put significant time and effort into researching issues in order to find ways to make its products better and safer for everyone. Writing about the allegations that it systematically ignores negative research findings, the company stated on its website that “it’s a claim which could only be made by cherry-picking selective quotes from individual pieces of leaked material in a way that presents complex and nuanced issues as if there is only ever one right answer”.
Which is somewhat ironic coming from a company that has, unwittingly or not, created a platform for people around the globe to make claims that are sometimes based on misunderstandings or distortion of the facts.
In the shooting industry, of course, we’ve seen some of the negative effects first-hand. Individuals being sent death threats for sharing content about a sport they love, antis and thieves using social media as a way to track down shoots for malicious purposes, and the relentless spread of false information about almost literally everything to do with shooting are just three I can think of off the top of my head. (And that’s before I get to the FOMO and envy-inducing pictures from people who get to go shooting more than I do.)
And even if you ignore all of that, there’s still a fundamental question to be asked about whether or not being a user of social media is a waste of precious time on this earth. Let me put it this way —if you have spent an hour a day on social media since Facebook launched in February 2004, you’ve easily spent more than 6,000 hours of your life on it. That’s enough time to learn a language, write a novel, sort out your garden or finally struggle to the end of A Brief History of Time.
However, can I honestly say my life isn’t better, and richer, for being on social media? Given that my life is richer just from the friends I made at the Scone Game Fair two weeks ago and now chat with on Facebook and Instagram, it’s hard to make that case—at least not without coming face to face with my Portuguese-speaking, novel-writing, perfect-garden-cultivating self from a parallel universe.
From an industry perspective, there’s also a lot to be thankful for. Social media has allowed huge numbers of people, particularly younger demographics new to shooting, to get excited by our sport and to find like-minded individuals with whom they can participate in it.
It allows shooting organisations to broadcast news to members without waiting for a slot in the quarterly magazine, allows individuals to share hard-earned knowledge, creates quick and easy ways to fundraise for conservation, and in general gives rural issues a louder voice in an urban-focused world.
One clip from a recent BBC Look North programme about the impact of the poor grouse season on the local economy, for example, was shared by the North Yorkshire Moors Moorland Organisation Facebook page and received around 21,000 views—four times the number of its online supporter base.
(I can’t give you more accurate figures right now for obvious reasons.)
If God weighed the pros and cons of social media in their weighing scales, I honestly couldn’t tell you which way they would tip, but in a digital world where—as I point out most months—the media can’t be relied on to portray shooting in a fair light, social media at least provides the opportunity for everyone to have their say.
Facebook, with its monumental power and reach of more than 3.51 billion active users across all its products, may not be the right answer, but we do need something. Not least because I really can’t be arsed to learn Portuguese.
‘Shooting In The Media’, is an opinion article in which journalist Caroline Roddis explores topical issues.