SOCIAL media makes people weird, doesn’t it? This thought strikes me first thing in the morning. I am in the conservatory with the radio on and my feet chilly on the tiles (summer interrupted). Facebook has been checked to see which of the two billion other users have noticed me (approximately three). Twitter has been skimmed (2,710 followers but not really counting – honest).
I just spotted a clever meme – I think that is what they are called – on Twitter with a clip of a woman to accompany the question: “Should I recommend Twitter to a friend?” Her endlessly repeated answer is: “Yes! No! Oh, I don’t know!” That seems to sum up the hopelessly addictive trap that is Twitter.
Social media offers many opportunities. But it can make us needy, clicking to see who has ‘liked’ our contribution, mentioned us or – if you write a blog – who has read what you have written. Or if anyone has read a word. Please do, needy writing person on the laptop prowl.
On the BBC website this morning, you will discover two stories about social media weirdness. The first is a modern-day tragedy rooted in this thirst for attention: a man accidentally killed by his loving partner in a social media stunt gone wrong.
Monalisa Perez, 19, from Minnesota has been charged over the fatal shooting of her boyfriend. She shot Pedro Ruiz as he held a book to his chest, believing this would stop the bullet.
This tragic stunt was watching by the couple’s three-year-old child and around 30 onlookers. The bullet, having misunderstood the rules of the game, went through the book and into the poor man’s chest.
Ruiz’s aunt, Claudia Ruiz, told a local TV station that her nephew told her he wanted to do the stunt “because we want more viewers, we want to get famous”.
The couple started a YouTube channel in March, aiming to show “the real life of a young couple who happen to be teen parents”. And they were hoping for an attention boost.
To end up dead but fleetingly famous seems like a cruel modern parable. Perhaps this could have a cautionary title: The Man Who Wanted Too Much Attention, or something.
Hidden in there somewhere is the everyday truth that it is enough to be liked or admired by your family and friends. Yet many of us still seek social media attention, hoping to be noticed by the wider world. Guilty as charged in my case – even though on a deeper level I recognise the inadequacy of this behaviour.
Monalisa Perez was nervous about the stunt, which was her boyfriend’s idea. She tweeted: “Me and Pedro are going to shoot one of the most dangerous videos ever. HIS idea not MINE.”
Could that tweet be called on by her defence in court? She certainly seems innocent in a wider sense. But she held that gun. And fired that bullet.
To add another turn to this very modern tragedy, Perez is pregnant with the couple’s second child.
Social media makes people weird (part two). The second piece of evidence on the BBC website concerns a fake story about a ‘miracle baby’ being found in Grenfell Tower 12 days after the tragic inferno.
This made-up story was pushed under the banner ‘Metro’ – like the free newspaper, but in a different typeface. The post also pinched the BBC’s breaking news graphic, adding the words: “Baby rescued from burnt building 12 days after London’s Grenfell Tower fire.”
The story was soon debunked by mainstream news outlets. The miracle baby was an extreme version of a trend that the BBC discovered after this year’s terror attacks in Manchester and London. Stories about fake victims were posted online “within minutes of the attack”, according to the Beeb’s website.
We can only suppose people do this for clicks and attention. And it works, as fake stories are picked up by mainstream reporters, who report the truth – while repeating the lie. And the process continues, the truth chasing the lie in a whirlwind of attention seeking. Sometimes the lie gets thousands of clicks, and in the weird social media world, something so widely shared or seen acquires its own truth: even when it’s a bare-faced lie.
I told you social media was weird. I wonder if Facebook’s changed since I started typing this…