A month or so ago I posted a few paragraphs on Facebook about how I am seriously reconsidering my use of social media. Since then I have done virtually no scrolling through my feeds, and have limited myself to very occasional posts. And I think my life is much better for it – social media was eating up more of my time than I realized, time I now use out in the real world.
So much so that I am considering deleting my accounts – particularly of timeline-based “scrolling” sns (facebook, instagram, twitter). Socially/ethically I believe this is a good thing to do (do I really want to support these companies?), though this isn’t significant in my decision – rather, my motivation is selfish: much like giving up other unhealthy addictions like smoking (admittedly I never really smoked beyond a short phase of smoking-while-drinking) and drinking (which i surely did to excess), quitting social media has made my life better.
A lot of my recent posts have been very energetic (ranting and shouty, even…) but today I want to take a moment to breath deeply, and talk quietly about how terrifying this all is, and how to deal with that.
First, a brief summary of the facts, just as a short reminder of how scary the situation really is:
The science and scientists tells us that we have a massive problem: global warming will lead to more extreme weather: heatwaves, droughts, floods, and storms. The physics of why is simple: more heat energy in the air means more energy to the air’s movement, which makes weather events stronger than they would otherwise have been.
Heatwaves and floods are going to damage crops; as these events become more frequent and stronger more and more crops are going to be damaged and fail. That’s going to reduce the food supply, eventually getting to the point where people start to go hungry (this is already happening).
Yesterday a friend of mine shared the Carole Cadwalladr TED talk “Facebook’s role in Brexit – and the threat to democracy” in which she explains how she led an Observer newspaper investigation into the role Facebook played in the Brexit and Trump elections. The talk is absolutely jaw-dropping, so if you haven’t seen it yet then watch it now, because I’m going to discuss it with spoilers.
To summarize: People with a lot of money paid Cambridge Analytica to use Facebook to spread carefully targeted misinformation (and outright lies, and hate speech) with the specific aim of influencing the result of the UK Brexit election as a testing ground for technology that they then deployed in the US election of Donald Trump. And so as Cadwalladr says: