I have been thinking about this for a long time but have hesitated to say anything for several reasons:
- I don’t want to end up writing some ridiculous manifesto that will make me look like a tit when I don’t live up to it
- I really don’t need to DO anything, because I am already doing it; there is no need to tell anyone about it
- IT is sort of complicated
But none of these undeniably true arguments can keep me quiet; I need to say this in order to move on. (I’m an American; we’re keen on closure.)
I am suffering from what I like to call “Scammer Fatigue.”
Wherever I go, in Cyberspace or the real world, someone is there trying to scam me. Admittedly, it has been a while since a street urchin has handed me a flower, then demanded payment for it, or a bleary-eyed twenty-something told me a tale of woe and, thereby, attempted to extract bus fare to Margate, but you can bet that, any moment now, the phone will ring and it will be someone with a thick accent, claiming to be a Microsoft representative, will tell me that my computer is doing something alarming and, if I pay him a pile of money, he can make it stop doing whatever dreadful deeds it is surreptitiously getting up to.
That is why I have this rule: anyone who is not a friend or acquaintance, who calls me uninvited, is trying to scam me. (I hung up on BT several times because of this, but that is hardly a reason to alter my rule.)
At home, I can just put the phone down; in Cyberspace, it\’s a bit more complicated.
I am a writer, both “traditionally” and “self-” published, and as such I am tasked to be social media savvy because, well, everyone knows that social media is the only way to sell books. Now, I’m not here to debate the veracity of that statement, or to discuss various ways that social media can be used and misused for that purpose, I’m just saying that social media has largely become a dumping ground for self-righteous rage, a speed-of-light conduit for misinformation and a playground for the criminally minded.
It’s like a real-world carnival, where pickpockets gather on the fringes because, where there are people, there are pockets to pick. But in cyberspace, the criminals don’t have to hide in dark alleys, you are not safe walking the well-lit streets because they are everywhere, pretending to have your interests at heart but, in reality, they are only there to fleece you. You know, like politicians.
When I gaze down my Twitter stream, in addition to links to ads re-tweeted by people with ulterior motives, and actual ads inserted by Twitter, I see shit like this:
RT: @something inane #funny #hilarious #MustRT
#read shrunkenurl/b01loCks BUY MY SHIT!
The link may only bring you to an ad thinly disguised as an article, but it may just as well send you to a page that is the virtual equivalent of the wrong side of town.
Add to this the fact that, even before it was spoiled by the baser side of human nature, Twitter was—in my mind—a dubious idea at best, you can see why it wasn’t hard for me to abandon it.
Facebook is less straightforward, because when I look at my “timeline” I see pictures of my grandchildren. But I also see a lot of angry people espousing conspiracy theories, cheerful/inspirational sayings and in-your-face patriotism with accompanying demands to share or else, heart-rending messages (“This cute little kitten will be hit with a brick unless this post gets 2 million likes”) encouraging you to click the “like” button, blatant ads inserted by Facebook, Inc. and, most alarmingly, friends posting links to dubious causes and/or businesses.
I find it hard to believe that my cousin is so taken with Acme’s All-Natural Flea and Tick Repellent that they need to share the link to their site with me, or that my ex-high school buddy loves Dunkin\’ Donuts to the point where he cannot stop himself from telling me about it.
These ads are spontaneously generated by Facebook on behalf of my friends, so I expect they are not even aware they are doing it. But what causes me consternation is the idea that Facebook could be doing this to me, as well, and that my family and friends are seeing my picture next to a purported update from me exclaiming how much I enjoy a fresh application of Vagisil.
|The Fine Print
And those “like this or else” posts are simply criminal enterprises. The idea is to get tons of “likes” for that page, then the page name is changed and sold on to a business as a “pre-liked” page.
Other links routinely redirect you to pages designed to download malware, some of which is simply destruction for the fun of it, but just as often it is a means of extracting cash from you or others.
Despite all of this, I do like seeing pictures of my family, so I won’t quit Facebook outright, I will just limit my friend list. And I won’t stop posting to it, either, because some things I do in other parts of cyberspace (post reviews to Goodreads, for instance) automatically trigger posts to Facebook and I see no reason to stop that. Yet.
And I will continue this blog. I had thought about closing it down—I’ve been living on-line since about 1995 and thought maybe that was long enough—but in the end I realized that, I am a writer and, as such, I am afflicted with a pathological need to write, and an equally obsessive desire to share what I write, and a blog is the perfect remedy for that.
There is still some good in cyberspace, but I am afraid my virtual age means that I can recall the heyday, the barn-storming era when the Internet was being built—line by line—in HTML. We had hopes and dreams then, and we worked to build something good, a virtual community where we all helped and encouraged one another, a world without censorship, a world not driven by greed and corruption.
It was a noble dream, and to see it sullied by dubious marketing and criminal activity disguised as charity… well…, it makes me sad. So I’ve decided to stop looking at the things that make me sad and concentrate on what good things are left.
And, as ever, to hope for a better future.