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Outsiders vs. Insiders: Social media is now the world’s plague and Trump should alleviate it

It’s safe to say, in one form or another, most of us are familiar with the story of Pandora’s box.

For those who might still be in the dark, Wikipedia describes the legend thusly (citations omitted): “Pandora's box is an artifact in Greek mythology, taken from the myth of Pandora's creation in Hesiod's Works and Days. The ‘box’ was actually a large jar (πίθος pithos) given to Pandora (Πανδώρα, ‘all-gifted, all-giving’), which Trump Twitter pagecontained all the evils of the world. Pandora opened the jar and all the evils flew out, leaving only ‘Hope’ inside once she had closed it again.

“Today the phrase ‘to open Pandora's box’ means to perform an action that may seem small or innocent, but that turns out to have severely detrimental and far-reaching negative consequences.”

It could be argued all of those “evils of the world” are now concentrated in the political capitals of the various countries, including our very own Washington DC; at this moment some leader somewhere is oppressing his or her people in the pursuit of maintaining authority – or to try and gain more power at someone else’s expense.

Some might call the “evils” human nature, something we’ve all been talking a lot about lately with the tsunami of sexual harassment claims engulfing the culture. “Pandora’s Box” was opened by the Harvey Weinstein scandal and its list of casualties is already quite long – and I have a feeling, hardly complete.

But the heart of the story has just as much to do with unintended consequences as it does human nature. There are a lot of actions we perform everyday whereby we have no way of knowing in advance what’s going to happen at the end of a string of events. It’s not like opening a chainsaw store and envisioning every tree will soon disappear; sometimes, you just don’t know.

Such was certainly the case with social media. A decade ago we were just learning about the phenomenon. I had a friend ask me back then, “Are you a Facebook person or a MySpace person?” My answer was neither – I’d never heard of either of them.

Today, however, Pandora’s social media “box” has been opened and practically everyone – even the most shut off in society – knows what Facebook is…or Twitter, etc. Everyone who’s anyone has some sort of social media presence; whether they use it or not is up to them.

Curiously, now some of the creators of social media themselves are expressing reservations about the proverbial monster they let out of the cage. Last week Emily Jashinsky of the Washington Examiner reported on one of them. “’I feel tremendous guilt,’ said former Facebook executive Chamath Palihapitiya last month, positing that social media pioneers knew ‘in the back recesses’ of their minds ‘something bad could happen’ with the platforms they created, despite projecting a public sense of optimism about their impact…

“In a November interview at Stanford University, Palihapitiya claimed social networks ‘are ripping apart the social fabric of how society works. If you feed the beast, that beast will destroy you,’ he added.

“Palihapitiya argued the ‘the short-term dopamine-driven feedback loops that we have created are destroying how society works’ and ‘eroding the core foundations of how people behave by and between each other.’”

Interestingly enough, Palihapitiya doesn’t allow his own children to use social media. That’s akin to Henry Ford forbidding his progeny from owning an automobile or Alexander Graham Bell barring telephones from the family home. You just don’t invent something like Facebook and then realize years down the road that people can’t handle it.

Palihapitiya may claim the founding fathers of social media couldn’t foresee how it would be used but I’d argue that’s a myth; how could they not have envisioned mass communications technology would prey on the weakest and least informed among us to unleash the “evils of the world”?  Not everyone follows the news but even the most detached of individuals cares to some degree about what people think of them personally. The desire for social approval is the “dopamine” Palihapitiya was talking about.

Transgenders don’t dress in opposite sex clothing so that no one will look at them. They’re seeking acceptance for “who they are” – and now they even want the law to back them. Social media fanned the flames of their “cause” and look what transpired – our daughters can’t even use a public restroom without fear of some human with male anatomy being in there.

The truth is, no one would bother posting anything to a social media platform if they didn’t believe someone out there would one, want to look at it and two, perhaps “like” it for others to see. If a mother didn’t think her extended family and network of friends wanted to see everything her kids Noah and Charlotte do in their afterschool activities she wouldn’t waste time posting their pictures and videos.

Similarly, if a politician or journalist didn’t figure someone wanted to see how they feel about the drying of cement or the growing of grass they might refrain from posting it. Yet these days it seems like a lot of people have an innate need to share everything they’re doing with the outside world – and then check back later to see how many “likes” they’ve earned from those who couldn’t resist sneaking a peek at it.

The problem seems particularly acute in younger folks but they’re not the only ones. Individuals with too much time on their hands are more than happy to produce podcasts or videos for public consumption. As a perfect example I was in an airport over the summer and social media phenoms “Kyler and Mad” were booked on the same flight. I didn’t have a clue who they were but the attractive couple had selfie sticks and cameras and people kept walking up to them asking for autographs. A little subsequent searching revealed the answer.

Having now viewed a few “Kyler and Mad” YouTube videos they’re little more than a young married couple with cute-as-a-button twin daughters filming stuff about their daily lives and then posting their product on the internet. Does anyone truly care about this stuff? Not to impugn the creativity of a couple eye-catching folks who discovered a way to make money from mass social media fixation (Kyler and Mad have almost a million subscribers, apparently), but why aren’t Americans more focused on, for lack of a better way to put it, more important things?

Any democratic society depends on the well-informed character of its citizens. Ignorance is the enemy of government accountability. How else did we get $20 trillion in debt and no one seems to realize or care about it? Why?

Social media is effectively dumbing down society. There are only so many seconds in a day and if you’re expending those minutes and hours on non-productive pursuits, what does it say about you? Or the people who invented and manufactured such time wasters? Isn’t that what Palihapitiya was talking about?

Of course President Donald Trump has endured a storm of criticism for his own addictive use of social media platforms which he swears by as a means to bypass the biased “fake” mainstream media and reach interested people directly. For Trump at least, social media seems to serve as not only a good way to get his message out, it’s also got its entertainment value.

The man is a lifelong celebrity after all. He knows how to attract an audience and keep them riveted. When it comes down to the establishment media they’re practically eating out of his hands every moment.

But has Trump’s Twitter habit become a distraction? Nearly everyone thinks the answer is “yes.” Victor Davis Hanson wrote last week at National Review, “Trump’s record speaks louder than his tweets and now transcends his electronic spats. 

“So why should Trump still care what a minor journalist tweets about him to get much-needed attention? Why does the president need to keep pounding increasingly irrelevant former FBI director James Comey, who has been reduced to tweeting anti-Trump slogans?

“Trump’s record has now transcended his Twitter ankle-biters, who have become ever shriller in seeking attention in the form of electronic counter-put-downs.”

Hanson concludes by suggesting Trump should “retire” from the Twitter wars as champion and leave the petty bone-picking to others. Hanson’s not the first to advocate for such a thing and won’t be the last, but the president shows no sign of desiring to change his course on social media. Clearly he sees it as a way to further his many interests – including those of his political office.

But Trump must also realize social media is acting as a drag on his success – or at least the way he’s using it is holding him back. By reinforcing negative stereotypes about his personality as well as regularly supplying fodder for his critics Trump is inhibiting his approval ratings from rising. Simply put, unless more people like him personally they’re not going to pay any mind to the plethora of accomplishments his administration is achieving.

Ultimately it could be hurting the GOP as well. Trump’s off-the-topic jabs portray him as a sometimes cartoonish man who lacks focus and provides ammunition for his critics to discount his intellect and political abilities. Some would say it’s similar to how Roy Moore handled his ill-fated campaign which ended in defeat last week.

None other than “Bush’s brain” Karl Rove said this about Moore, “Mr. Moore has a penchant for outrageous statements. In September he said America was great in the years before the Civil War because it was a ‘time when families were united—even though we had slavery.’ He suggested in February that the 9/11 attacks occurred because ‘we’ve distanced ourselves’ from God. And when he was asked in August about Ronald Reagan’s description of the Soviet Union as ‘the focus of evil in the modern world,’ he replied that ‘you could say that very well about America’ today...

“Even Mr. Moore’s appearance was problematic. Maybe he thought wearing a cowboy hat with a leather vest and riding his pony to his polling place made him look like John Wayne, but ‘Saturday Night Live’ was right: He looked more like Woody from ‘Toy Story.’”

Moore was not a candidate made for the world of social media. Rapid and wide dissemination of negative (and in many cases false or unsubstantiated) information meant Moore couldn’t answer a lot of the charges that made him look foolish. The Karl Roves of the world only made the problem worse.

Donald Trump should not share the same fate. The president is no Roy Moore, but the opening of Pandora’s social media box has unleashed all of the culture’s evils on the world. If Trump ultimately wants to Make America Great Again he can start by slamming the lid shut on his addiction to social media.

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