Culture, Technology, The Media

Following the Facebook Herd

A call for a more informed herd.

Throughout human history, there have been lots of sheep. I am not simply referring to the grazing animal that has been herded across numerous geographies across the planet that you see above. I am referring the behavior common amongst sheep that makes them popular to keep (and that makes them comparable to us as humans): a “follow the herd” mentality, grazing on whatever is in front of them (be it grass or anything else), requiring the presence of others to feel secure in themselves (social acceptance), and forgetting what is behind them as they move on to the next pasture. This makes for a wonderful source of wool and meat.

As someone who has had Facebook for most of its time online, it has been interesting for me to see the progression of how it is being used. Whereas before it seemed like a way to keep in touch with people at whatever distance they might be, as well as an easy way to store pictures, it has since essentially grown into a news source. A beacon, if you will, for anything under the sun to have a platform. In the last few years, as more and more people have tuned in, Facebook (and Twitter) has become an increasingly tempting place to massing followers who live and breath on everything said- taken as genuine truth.

Throughout human history, there have been numerous examples of mass organizing. Varying degrees of involvement and participation have been included. For every shepherd there is a large herd of sheep that follows consuming everything in its path. Both good and bad things have arisen from this setup. Among the good would be the Civil Rights Movement, the Gay Rights Movement and Organized Labor. However, among the bad you can count the Holocaust, the Salem Witch Trials, the Red Scare, and (fill in the blank) sports riots. The internet makes organizing platforms like these much easier than they were and just as easy to manipulate information and gain countless followers.

Facebook has connected the world in ways that no other form of media can hope to. For free, you can create an account and accumulate connections…in your neighborhood…in the your hometown…across your state…and across the world. It is amazing to think how far this has come and how under the radar it was in its first few years of existence (such as when MySpace was still relevant).

Suffice it to say in my earlier years (yes, up until I was about 16), my parents had strong content blocks on my internet access. The image below was a rather common occurrence. Yes, I’m sure your minds are going to the gutter, but to sum it up the biggest block was that I was unable to access MySpace.

parental-controls-video-thumbnail

Everyone was on MySpace except me (exaggeration). However, one day in spring 2007, my friend told me about this little-known platform called Facebook. Amusingly, Facebook was so small at that point that I was able to bypass parental controls and create an account. Yes people, that was the world we lived in not too long ago.

I see the progression of how Facebook has been used like the dawn of mankind into present-day. Starting as a place for telling people what you are up to. Typing in where you were going. Back in the days when messenger didn’t exist yet, and you had to have conversations on your wall (for everyone to see).

Fast forward to present-day where Facebook is so mainstream that Microsoft word flagged me for typing it with a lower case “f”, it is on our mobile devices and we all have to 2 apps for it (newsfeed and messenger). Generation Y/Millenials bought into it, so companies use it, real adults (Generation X and older) use it, and politicians started using it, and the now the entire world is on Facebook. Even in countries that block Facebook… people have found ways to use it. This has not been without its hiccups. Not so kind organizations (such as the KKK and ISIS) have tapped into it as well for spreading messages of hate, for purposes of recruiting and indefinitely being able to hide behind the freedom of speech that Facebook guarantees.

And with that, I come back to my point about sheep. Organizers employ countless sheep on Facebook to rally their battle cries in which many of these sheep have no clue what they are actually saying. They are working off of an emotional response (which is a very effective way of getting people to buy into whatever you are selling). The best part of this model, is that it allows sheep to get instant gratification via likes–and they don’t have to exude any semblance of understanding what is actually going on.

Take for example what happened with Invisible Children, Inc. in 2012. The documentary Kony 2012 was produced with the intent to raise awareness and ultimately raise money to stop fugitive Joseph Kony and have him arrested for him crimes against humanity. The video went viral, sporting 100 million views and 1.4 million likes on YouTube. However, in the wake of the video’s popularity, controversy regarding the film’s legitimacy surfaced. The content was criticized as oversimplifying events surrounding Kony, painting a black and white picture of the situation that did not encourage viewers to learn more, and ultimately relying upon a platform in which contributors donated or took action in a minimal way that was not actually remedying the wrongs happening, but just made the contributor feel like they contributed. Experts on the reality of what was occurring in the region criticized the campaign as “naive” for “elevating Kony to a global celebrity, the embodiment of evil,” that might only help him as a terrorist and cult leader, and called for instead “demystifying Kony—reducing him to a common criminal and a failed provincial politician.”

In my mind, the fact that this is becoming the norm in society, and that there is a massive, free platform to exploit it is very concerning. There are plenty of well-intentioned people trying to use this method to recruit support to their causes. It is now as easy as telling people to use hashtags and change profile pictures. Sheep rally behind these without fully understanding what they are doing. How easy is it, under this circumstance, to imagine a return to something like the worst examples of mass organizing–going on witch hunts to attack people with differing views and attitudes? All one needs to do is say something out of line and social conditioning will come on in full force. Reminds me a lot of what I remember high school to be. Popular ideas of what people should and shouldn’t be, used to harass others.

What I ask of you, good people, is to be informed in that which you decide to support. In Iceland exists a type of sheep called leedersheep. Leedersheep are highly intelligent animals that have the ability and instinct to lead a flock home during difficult conditions. They have an exceptional ability to sense danger. There are many stories in Iceland of leedersheep saving many lives during the fall roundups when blizzards threatened shepherds and flocks alike. If you are willing to change your profile picture, share a hashtag and/or roll with the tide of whatever cause makes you passionate, I encourage you to share relevant information, get involved in your cause for the better so that you actually have a stake in the outcome and don’t just be a mindless follower…be leedersheepish!

Icelandic leader sheep

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