May 20, 2013

Social media, disasters, and learned pretend helpfulness

Putting on my curmudgeon hat for the third blog post in less than a week, here. (Hey, I'm entitled; I'll be passing out of fortysomething in not too, too long.)

The tornado near Oklahoma City, and all the Facebook posts about it, are the trigger that I'm willingly pulling.

Folks, yes, if you live in some other state, even if you've never lived in Oklahoma, it's statistically possible you have one or two Facebook friends there. If you're up to your  5,000 max and your personal page has been turned into a "site," maybe 10 or so.

But, realistically, does posting "So-and-so has been found," or "so-and-so is still missing," or "so-and-so is looking for her parents," do any good? Seriously, if you're a frantic parent, you're bellowing across a field, not checking Facebook on an iPhone. And, you're checking with the police every 15 minutes to see if your kid has been found.

Beyond that, a friend of a friend ... that's two social media filters, delayed time, and always room for mistakes. (And setting aside how good of smartphone reception there is, post-tornado.)

Since my previous curmudgeonly post was about pop psychology and happiness, with a bit of a nod to learned helplessness, I invented the phrase "learned pretend helpfulness" for this.

Or, perhaps a bit more bluntly, with a nod to the Internet world, this partially overlaps with "slacktivism." Many people want to think that, by making a Facebook post, even if it's sharing someone from someone else who's three shares distant from the original (let's next ponder six Facebook degrees of Kevin Bacon), they're "doing something."

Ditto for someone in Montana who posts on Facebook about a child reported abducted in West Virginia.

Or people from 500 miles away posting local Red Cross numbers, or whatever. Or the national toll-free number. It's not like a Facebook post is really going to guilt-trip a lot of other people into donating, if the disaster itself hasn't touched them.

Folks, beyond "compassion fatigue," too much stuff like this on Facebook will probably lead to "disaster fatigue" or "tragedy fatigue." It's a known element in news reporting. A current example is that casualties in Syria's civil war are up, well up, over the rate of a year ago, but, it's not getting reported that way.

And, speaking of, in addition to the "more static out there" effect of social media, maybe that's another reason newspaper readership continues to slide. Social media now involves home-shot video, still photos, slide shows, and commentary. For better or for worse.

I mean, think back 15 years. If you had a computer, and had Internet access, did you email all your friends about news updates from something you saw on TV, every five minutes? Or 10 years ago, did you IM them?

Yes, this is part of the dark side of the Internet. And, it's not quite disaster porn, but it's in the same general ballpark.

At times like this, people need to become Buddhist or Stoic and accept that there's simply nothing they can do.

There may be a time and a place for social media as a tool, but it's usually after the dust has settled.

Anyway, back to the "numbing" ...

I've long known that nothing I posted on Facebook would make a damned bit of difference about it. And, I'm trying to remember that on a big natural disaster like this tornado, that other friends are posting links about the tornado itself, so maybe I don't even need to do that, news junkie that I am.

Also, we don't need "Kossacks" from Daily Kos live-blogging tornadoes. If we're in the affected area, we're watching TV or listening to the radio or going online ourselves. Numbnuts.

Doorknob knows I probably post too much on Facebook at times, as it is, whether that's in the belief I'm a font of immense wisdom, or the latest incarnation of the humor of Hawkeye Pierce.

Don't worry, folks. As I get closer to fiftysomething, then enter it, you'll get more like this. I'll move beyond skeptical left-liberal politics and atheism to becoming a curmudgeon social philosopher.

Update, May 21: Meanwhile, with the Moore death toll estimates now reduced to 24, how long will it be before some Religious Right types talk about the miracle of only 24 dying, Gnu Atheist types firing back in public about why would a god let 24 people die in a tornado in the first place, and non-Gnus, but still atheists, like me, wishing Gnu Atheists would just let the Religious Right types blabber on?

I don't know, but when I mentioned this on a friend's Facebook feed (her setting is "public," so I'm not divulging anything) a friend of hers accused me of being snide, even after clarified that I was just talking about Religious Right types. (And, this friend-of-a-friend, with Dawkins' "The God Delusion" among his Facebook likes, isn't a theist, obviously.)

To which, I pointed out that I was making an observation based on how past similar disasters had played out, and not being snide. If I had been snide, I would have finished that comment with something about his tone-concern trolling, but I didn't.

Or, there's Pat Robertson, doubling down on teh stupid and teh insulting by claiming Oklahomans forgot to pray. (I forgot all about that scenario.)

Oklahoma is one of the "reddest," most wingnut and most religious states in the nation. Even more than normal, Pat Robertson is just making shit up as he goes along. I could, instead, say if I were religious: Hey, Oklahomans, you forgot to pray, so now you have to listen to Pat Robertson.

That said, I've already given him more attention than he warrants and less than Gnu Atheists will.

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