Like most people, I have a love/hate relationship with social media. I recently considered breaking up with facebook.
All the major social media platforms – facebook, twitter, etc. – are designed to attract our continuing attention, to make us turn towards them and away from whatever it may be that we previously decided we should focus on. Social media companies make money when they have our attention, so they employ scientists who know how to appeal to our “lizard brain” and keep us coming back.
Social media distraction is a challenge lying in bed or sitting at a desk and it is a challenge in life and politics. There is a lot of evidence that social media can distract people from more meaningful relationships. Social media encourage us to live in a digital echo chamber instead of engaging in meaningful dialog, contributing to the proliferation of “fake news” and isolating people from alternative perspectives.
As a servant of the people, I try to listen to people in every way that I can. I’ve invested a lot of effort in creating my own web presence that allows me to inform my constituents about emerging issues and engage in focused dialog.
I’ve struggled with facebook. I haven’t been sure what kind of posts are appropriate for me on facebook. I don’t feel that personal news about my family and our latest food experiences is appropriate for my official facebook page. Nor have I felt that facebook is a good platform for the deeper analysis that I like to put on my website. So, I’ve ended up just facebooking links to new posts on my website and sharing pictures of myself and my constituents at various events.
Speaking as a citizen, I know that I’m really not interested in pictures of other politicians and I’m guessing citizens aren’t very interested in pictures of me either. I assumed that most of the people actually viewing my facebook page were probably also on my email list and they didn’t need to also get the links on facebook. So, I was about ready to just shut the channel down. I have no desire to be part of the distraction problem.
My millennial chief of staff argued against me doing that. So, I paused. I posted to facebook and just asked people whether they were getting anything out my page. I was surprised that a number of people pushed back and said that the page was the main way they heard from me. Most of them were not on my email list and some were people I didn’t know.
I shouldn’t have been surprised – over two thirds of American adults use facebook. It is by far the most-used social media platform in every age group. Three quarters of facebook users check it daily and many Americans look to it for political news.
At the same time as I was reassessing my relationship with facebook, facebook has been reassessing itself, acknowledging the dangers of distraction, and trying to move in the direction of more meaningful interaction.
So, maybe there’s a future for our relationship. I’m going to try using my facebook page as a focused discussion venue. My website will remain the repository of my extended thoughts on issues that are central for me. My facebook page will be a secondary channel for notice and discussion of those issues and a primary channel for sharing information on some additional issues. I’ll only post to it two or three times a week.
So, please consider following the “Will Brownsberger” page on facebook.