Spoiler alert: today’s spiel pertains to problems that exist exclusively within the world of social networking, or more specifically, Facebook. I realize that a lot of you important, sexy people can’t be bothered with such trivialities, and as such might have furrowed your disapproving brows and balked at the very notion upon reading the title of this Trendshredder.
“Facebook? Hurrumph! A man of my prestige shan’t be troubled with such banality.”
If that’s how you feel, you probably won’t relate much to the following complaints and grievances, and might be inclined to say something like “Who cares, just don’t use Facebook.” Or the ever charming “First world problems!” and you’d be totally right in both those claims, if perhaps rather unoriginal in your phrasing.
I implore you, however, to consider that while undeniably asinine at times, social networks like Facebook and all those that grow in its shadow are for better or worse pretty much how humanity communicates now. I’ve discussed before how that’s both good and bad, and covered my feelings on Spam quite thoroughly, so rest assured that those dead horses won’t be getting flogged any further.
No, today I want to talk about a very specific type of Facebook spam that’s been seeing a stark insurgence in popularity of late. Namely: graphic, vulgar, and outright disgusting images posted without regard, under the misguided notion of “raising awareness”. So file this under ‘notes on internet etiquette’, Audrey (Audrey is my imaginary receptionist).
Facebook activism and You
A few weeks ago I saw a decapitated cat in my Facebook news feed. You know, that little window where people’s misspelled lyric quotes, passive aggressive diary entries, and scantily clad bathroom selfies idly scroll by? There it was, man, slipped casually between a passive aggressive status about someone’s unnamed backstabbing friend and a picture of someone else’s lunch. A fuckin’ headless kitty cat. Needless to say, I was mortified, and not just because I have a cat whom I love in a way that is a much better love story than twilight, either.
Professor Samuel Meowington III, you are a fucking rockstar.
It threw me for a couple of reasons. First among them was the shock of it all. Since I sure as hell wasn’t expecting it, the image hit me like Chris Brown hits the gym on a regular basis..
“Heh, I thought he was gonna make a Rihanna joke…“
…so he can stay fit for the next time he needs to beat the living shit out of Rihanna.
“Ahhh, there it is!”
Secondly, the image shook me because while generally desensitized to images of human-on-human violence, the sight of a beloved animal companion – the chosen mascot of the internet no less – hacked apart and held up proudly for a photo-op by several unacceptably enthusiastic individuals filled me with the sort of seething revenge-rage that makes men want to dress up in awesome costumes and dole out well deserved shit-kickings in the name of justice.
Beyond that, it was just plain gross, and arguably the worst part about it was that I knew that these were the exact feelings I was intended to have upon viewing it. That horrible sick twisting in my stomach and the utter shame in humanity it came coupled with was deliberate. Someone wanted me to feel like this.
I had unwittingly crossed paths with a Facebook shock activist. An earnestly well-intentioned individual who’s so desperate to help their causes that they have no reservations about bombarding everyone around them with images so grotesque and nightmarish that they are the stuff metal bands are named after.
They’re usually animal fanatics, so devout in their hatred of cruelty and exploitation that they won’t hesitate when given a chance to show the world the horrors that the fur or food industries, and just humans in general, are capable of. This is a difficult line to walk, as anyone with a conscience knows to be kind to animals, and most tend to agree that people who aren’t so kind are generally regarded as the scum of the fucking earth.
I’m wheeling out all the classics today.
So it’s hard to be angry at someone with such good intentions, even if they are misguided and off-putting in their efforts. At first, in spite of my displeasure, I tried to be understanding of where this person was coming from. Then I thought too hard about that and got even angrier because I realized what a terrible exercise in gory futility it all was. Here’s why:
I know that there are awful injustices occurring in the world. I am all too aware of the atrocities being committed by our race on a daily basis, and it saddens me to no end. It’s a sobering truth I can’t escape no matter how much I drink, and believe me, I drink a lot. But there’s nothing I can do about it. I can’t physically go there and slap the clubs out of seal poachers’ hands; I can’t chain myself to an elephant to protect his feet from becoming gigantic novelty ashtrays; and I can’t fly around the world delivering swift ruthless justice to every heartless fuck that cuts the head off of an innocent cat like some kind of ass-kicking Santa Claus. The unfortunate fact of that matter is that it’s beyond my means to actually affect change in those situations to any noticeable degree, and there is literally no good that can come of me sharing an image of a creature in pain or worse to my friends and acquaintances.
I see the thought process that leads to someone doing this, though. I recognize the noble motivations behind it, and I understand why people feel like they need to do something, however small, to feel like they aren’t just ignoring the issue.
But the sad truth of the matter is that sharing that picture didn’t make that poor kitty any less murdered or headless. It’s still dead, others will still die, and the worldwide crime of animal cruelty will continue unabated anywhere that psychotics have access to sharp objects. You’ve done nothing positive. You just showed me a dead cat, which is now permanently burned into the darkest recesses of my tortured mind. So file that hellish image under “Introspective nightmares” please, Audrey, because this desk-chair-superhero needed me to see it so they could feel better about not being able to change it.
This notion people seem to have that sharing or liking something on Facebook has any real world ramifications needs to be addressed once and for all, because it’s gotten completely out of hand. It goes beyond animal cruelty and spills into other topics as well. Just to clarify, since people seem to be confused: Facebook is nothing more than a place that you type words. It does not give you superpowers. Your ‘like’ is nothing but a pretend thumbs up. Your ‘share’ is simply a link to someone else’s place to type words, and will under no circumstances be the deciding factor in any meaningful conflict about anything, anywhere, ever.
It’s great for spreading info on things actual people have actually done in the actual world, and tremendously helpful in raising money for artists, charities, or businesses. At its core, it can be a wonderful tool for the free exchange of information and a forum to communicate with anyone, anywhere, about anything.
So naturally, everyone just sort of fell into the thinking that because it’s great for getting your band out there or advertising your graphic design business, it’d also be awesome for y’know, pictures of dead tortured animals. Because activism, and stuff, or something.
That good-hearted notion of itself lets in a desperately needed beam of humanizing light into the darkened cellar of our tarnished and callous reputation as a species; it’s just unfortunate that in practicality, it does nothing but illuminate the atrocities living within said darkness, while doing nothing to drive them out.
The thinking seems to be that the more people who know about a problem, the less of a problem it will be. As if to say, if your picture of an abused woman gets 50,000 likes, nobody will beat their wives anymore, or the timeless “Share this to help fight rape.”
Well brace yourselves, heroes of Facebook, because this might come as a shock. Rape doesn’t give a flying fuck about how many shares it gets. It’s nice that you want to help, but all you’re really doing is bringing us all down by making us think about shit we can’t change. Do you genuinely think that a potential rapist would hesitate to commit rape because you said it was bad to rape people on Facebook? Are you truly convinced that if you share a picture of a dog that some soulless skin-wrapped turd let starve to death, it will stop anyone else from doing the same? Is your opinion that important? Does what you say have such a tremendous and absolute power over people that your disapproval directly dictates their actions?
Are you Jesse Custer?
No. You’re just another tiny person in a huge world, fraught with the sorrows of an overgrown hive, and for all your kicking and screaming, terrible things will continue to happen regardless of how many ugly pictures you show your friends and family. Your efforts are for naught, and are in truth as futile as my fruitless attempts to quell them.
What it all boils down to is a simple question: What does “raising awareness” do?
Well, if it’s a charity, it can generate some financial support from those with disposable income. If it’s a lost pet or a missing child, it can prompt people to keep their eyes open for it/them. If it’s a preventable or contagious disease, it might help people avoid/prepare for it. But if it’s just a graphic image shown for shock value about something that no amount of money or public awareness can solve, all it can do is make people sad and uncomfortable.
That’s the only true effect this kind of activism has, meaning that while you’re not making the problem any worse, you aren’t helping it either. You’re just some neutral weirdo posting pictures of bloody dead things like you’re getting paid to promote rotten.com and sleeping soundly at night under the delusion that you’ve somehow helped. I’m sorry, but you’re wrong.
This goes further back than Facebook, too. In the early 2000’s it was emails that petrified and traumatised early internet users the world over. In the 90’s it was telethons for far-off travesties that had already blown their target goal on advertising and celebrity hosts, and all throughout there has been the infomercials, showing black and white images of starving and neglected animals, dying slowly before our eyes to the dulcet, somber tones of Sarah Mclachlan’s “In The Arms Of The Angel”. Through every incarnation, the central theme has been the same: watch this suffering, and weep for what others have done.
All people do by posting these things is spread depression, and darkness, and negativity. It puts the bad things at the forefront of our consciousness while offering no solution, only the demand that we sit there and stare it in the face, as if it were something we had any ability to prevent or control, when in reality our involvement in the matter started and ended with knowing somebody misguided and naïve enough to think dropping disgusting images into a place where people go for entertainment and social gratification does anything more than stab that last lingering bit of faith in humanity in the throat, leaving it to bleed to death, alone and in pain. The sick fucks in question would probably post pictures of that, too, but I’m starting to lose my point.
Maybe it would help to look at this from a different angle. Think of Facebook as the world’s biggest house party. Everyone’s chatting, mingling, flirting, getting into fights and generally carrying on the way humans do in social settings, and then there’s you, with a picture of a mutilated ostrich in your hand, standing in the corner screaming “ THIS THING IS BAD!” at the top of your lungs while people awkwardly struggle to avoid conversation and eye contact. Needless to say, this behaviour isn’t going to make you very popular with the cool kids, but more to the point, handing out pictures of it for other people to mull over and be guilted into spreading won’t do the ostrich any good either. It’s just pointless and uncomfortable and sad, and nobody wants to be that guy.
As a result, you notice that people aren’t talking to you as much. More of them are flocking to the guy who does awesome science, and the girl with the slammin’ rack that ‘accidentally’ forgot to wear a bra. Suddenly you’re isolated, and wondering why. Why, damnit, doesn’t anybody want to be friends with dead-ostrich-Steve? Why doesn’t anybody at this party want to talk about depressing, soul-crushing tragedies that nobody has the power to change?
Well Steve, it’s because we all know about it, and none of us can stop it. There’s enough heavy, bleak weight hoisted high upon our exhausted and weary shoulders without having to be reminded of the awful nature that is the dark side of man. Moreover, the things you’re posting in an effort to make us ‘aware’ are so obviously and blatantly wrong that anyone who wasn’t already ‘aware’ that it wasn’t a good thing is probably only on Facebook because they’re stalking their next victim, and as such are well beyond salvation via seeing something icky.
In conclusion, bless your socially awkward, boorish little heart for trying to do what you perceive as ‘help’ whatever tragic cause du-jour you’ve chosen to rally for. It’s undeniably better to have good people accidentally faltering in their goodness than it is to simply tread water in this bottomless ocean of bad things, alone and without reprieve – but know that I’m already painfully aware of the atrocities in our world, and seeing them on a daily basis is neither pleasurable nor in anyway beneficial to either of us, and the validation and satisfaction you feel in sharing things that keep me up at night is false, and absolutely detrimental to your helpful intentions.
So stop it, you well-meaning idiots. Just fucking stop shoving these morbid and macabre things into my head against my will. There’s more than enough horror in my head, thank you very much.