Social media… ugh.

I actually left a position at our sister paper in Albertville to go work for a California start-up launching a new social network. This was back when Myspace was THE place to be and Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp and Viacom were in a bidding war to purchase it. One of my deathbed regrets will be all of the hours I spent blinging out my Myspace page and amassing “friends” just to have it all sort of abandoned one day like a house party that breaks up when the cops arrive.

Anyhow, we were after a piece of that action, roughly running parallel to some guys trying the same thing in their Harvard dorm room whose platform eventually went on to gain more than 2.5 billion users. You might have heard of it, that obscure website your grandma is now on called, um, The Facebook, I believe.

I got a front row seat to Web 2.0, as tech writers penned it. I dealt with instigators always trying to stir something up, regular visitors who felt entitled to throw their weight around and lead mini-revolts and dudes behaving like absolute jerks to each other and especially to female users who were the reason anyone visited in the first place. Same concept as Ladies Night -- giving thirsty dudes incentive to come out and waste their money trying to awkwardly persuade women out of their league to talk to them. Not literally. Some users of that now-defunct website remain friends to this day, but there was something about the anonymity of a social network that brought out the absolute worst in some guys.

Fast forward a decade and some change, and here we are. The world is not changed for the better. Sure, Facebook offers endless distraction and the ability to stay in touch with people I rarely get to see “IRL”, offering condolences when their dogs die. But 2016 showed us how easily it could be weaponized to amplify divisions along lines of class, race, gender, etc. To the point where some guy says something thoughtless in the heat of the moment, news websites across the globe run with it and thousands of people he doesn’t even know attack him for the sin of being an idiot.

In my recent interview with school counselors at Fort Payne High School, I asked whether bullying on schoolgrounds was as bad as it used to be. Their answer surprised me, although it shouldn’t. They said the bullying happens almost entirely online online now, that kids don’t dare put on some Cobra Kai-esque spectacle in the lunchroom and risk becoming a viral video. It’s terrifying to get harassed by an online mob, laughing and talking behind your back. Teenagers are obsessed with how they are perceived by classmates on their social media feeds.

Sometimes the Internet all gets to be too much, especially in election years. I am as guilty as anyone of taking the clickbait. A visit to Snopes.com reveals stories getting passed around that are absolute nonsense – for both sides! I’ve found it really pays to conduct a quality control check before hitting that share button.

I’ve actually decided to give myself a “social media detox” and separate myself from all of the garbage and negativity online. I made this choice after a dear friend took offense to my trying-to-be-helpful critique of her marathon posting of memes attacking the opponent of her preferred presidential candidate. I had learned from obnoxiously sharing articles that later returned to bite me in the butt in the past.

She said I should… oh wait, I can’t repeat those words in a family publication. I don’t set out to needlessly trigger others, but I took her not-so-subtle hint and freed up a spot on her Friend’s List.

I’d like to remind everyone that we still have to live alongside each other after this Election Year. Don’t let those Russian bots get you so worked up that you burn bridges with people you’ll run into at Foodland, mkay?

Anyhow, going “cold turkey” is tough for anything we are addicted to. If I could, I would inject news and living vicariously through other people on the Internet directly into my veins. Day Three of being “clean” and I already backslid during the debates. It’s irresistible to take a peek at the witty jabs people land on Twitter, the ghetto of social media networks.

Much has been said and written about how much the current occupant of the White House loves to Tweet, sometimes too much. I’m sure his advisers try to get him off the phone because it’s not a great look whenever thousands retweet his past comments vilifying others for the very thing he’s doing. Like or hate his policies, he could stand to be a wee bit more strategic and avoid sharing every single thought that pops into his noggin like firing off bullets on Fifth Avenue.

I’d be a hypocrite if I criticized him for being on social media too much and couldn’t myself stay off it for a week. Just 168 hours or 10,080 minutes of being cut off from The Matrix.

I mean, the Internet.

I fully expect my mental state to be a lot better when Wednesday rolls around, assuming I don’t crack over the weekend.

Like a guy telling everyone he’s on a diet so they’ll slap that slice of pizza out of his hand (I need to do that too), I must put it in writing.

If you see me on the corner of Facebook and Instagram looking to score a fix, feel free to shame me for being weak.

— Steven Stiefel is a staff writer at the Times-Journal. His column appears in Saturday editions. Email: steven.stiefel@times-journal.com.

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