Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The Bewildering Facebook Experience

One's contact group on Facebook begins with a modest circle of family and friends but after several years it grows into a vast and diverse group of people with many of whom one has very little in common. In the writer's case, although English continues to dominate, the polyglot community posts also in Arabic, Vietnamese, Tagalog and smatterings of African languages. And while the initial group discussed familiar issues and expressed views with which one was generally in sympathy, the larger eclectic group that evolves over time promotes strange and sometimes offensive opinions, often expressed in imperfect or unsavoury language. One wonders how a group that is designated as friends can mutate into such a sprawling and largely alien community.

The Bewildering Facebook Experience
One's core Facebook community always had a few special interests in addition to family matters. These included books and farming, motorcycles, model making and current affairs in Ghana. To this were soon added houses in Spain, Germany and later France, with a strong pro-European Union bias. As the circle of contacts grew, a major input began to appear from pro-Democratic Party organisations in the USA with highly partisan posts rapidly increasing in number as the presidential election approached.

How US politics came into the ambit of a group of British citizens is hard to explain but the furore over Britain's referendum on EU membership could not be avoided. While the family core is strongly European, its Facebook experience is dominated by three extreme right-wing organisations who are pro-Brexit and vehemently opposed to Muslim immigration. One group is struggling to revive a crusading military order dissolved in 1312, after accusations of abuses and neglect, and another expresses pride in reporting every scrap of news that portrays Moslems in a bad light. One wonders if one is seeing a sort of pseudo-Christian revival.

Equally strange, but far less sinister, is a lady posting garish childish daubs, claiming artistic merit, while less controversial are pictures posted by a gentleman with passions for old classic cars and young glamourous women. The posts in Vietnamese are mostly sponsored commercials, while those in Tagalog seem biased in support of the new president and his extrajudicial slaughter of drug traders and abusers. Ghanaians have recently been commenting on their own presidential election, now peacefully concluded, with all posts in English but with a few interjections in Twi.

If the Facebook experience is strange and unexpected it does have a message to impart. The great human family is now connected more directly than ever before and there are only a few links between those we know, and those who they know, and so on to the ends of the Earth. It also brings a warning about the dangers of the spread of extreme religious and political views, at the same time as providing a forum in which these might, perhaps, eventually be reconciled.

John Powell is the author of several books, the latest being: Saint George, Rusty Knight, and Monster Tamer is a series of nine self-contained historical short stories which introduces George, a hapless knight who has an unusual skill for monster taming, and which, with wit and delightful aplomb takes the young reader on an adventurous journey though some significant moments in history.

Historical Novel Society, February 2016.

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