I often wonder how different the world would be had social media existed for the past several decades.
How would Facebook have reacted to all the trials and tribulations leading up to President Nixon’s resignation in 1974?
Would people have taken to Instagram to capture the scenes in the minutes and hours following the horrific Challenger explosion in 1986?
And can you fathom the Twitter commentary clinging to every dramatic twist and turn surrounding the O.J. Simpson car chase, trial and eventual not-guilty ruling in the mid-90s? The sheer amount of Ford Bronco-themed memes and “if it doesn’t fit, you must acquit” jokes alone would be enough to, as they say, break the Internet.
But … what about the ugly side of social media? What would it have looked like 40-plus years ago, even?
I’m in the unique position as a so-called Millennial to have lived roughly half my life before Myspace and Facebook existed, and the second half smack dab in the middle of the ever-evolving social media explosion.
Unfortunately for me — and I’m pretty confident other young professionals feel the same — I was too young to truly appreciate the privilege of a world without social media.
Case in point: On Thursday evening, I watched Gov. Sisolak’s press conference in which he unsurprisingly announced that non-food-serving bars were going back to phase one in Washoe and Clark counties and had to close down again.
He gave two main reasons: 1. Federal officials apparently warned him earlier that day that Nevada would soon be in a “precarious condition where hospitals are overwhelmed with patients” if the state did not take “swift policy action” to limit spread of the virus; and 2. Based on hundreds of OSHA inspections over the past two weeks to see which businesses were following his June 24 mask mandate, fewer than 50% of bars were in compliance.
Whether you agree with the decision, whether you wonder why other businesses like casinos are allowed to keep operating, whether you agree or not with medical experts and science, one thing is certain from a purely economic standpoint: Nevada’s bars get the short end of the stick here.
I feel bad for these businesses. Not only do they have to close down once more and face worsening revenue realities, but yet again there will hundreds and thousands of furloughed and laid-off employees saddled with the unenviable task of playing whack-a-mole with the state’s unemployment agency.
Considering the governor’s controversial mandate, I went on Twitter and Facebook after his announcements to check out the chatter — not really because I wanted to get a gauge on reactions, but more so because part of my job entails monitoring social media for commentary and possible news updates.
While there were plenty of constructive comments from politicians, public figures and even some bar owners, those were far out-weighed on my feeds by upset business owners and many more furious residents.
Is criticism warranted? Absolutely. Do people have the right to be ticked off? Of course! Does freedom of speech afford people the opportunity to let the world know why they feel government decisions are bad ideas? You bet.
But what really eats at me and begins to erode my confidence in a bright future for this world is when I go on social media and read comments filled with pure vitriol and hatred.
It’s upsetting to hear stories of cyber-bullying and threats to safety. And it’s beyond frustrating, even infuriating in my own right, to see people compare the governor’s directives, and those of other states, to that of Adolf Hitler or Joseph Stalin and try to compare unprecedented times now to a dark past of war crimes and genocide.
There is so much negativity and ill-conceived hatred flowing through the cesspool that is social media these days that it can sometimes feel like you’re drowning from trying to bore through the negativity in order to effectively understand an issue — or in my case, in a profession that demands constant social media monitoring, even trying to productively make it through a workday.
Some people might label me a “snowflake” for having a view like this, and that if I can’t stand the heat, then get out the kitchen, etc. That doesn’t faze me — I’ve matured myself mentally over the years to withstand all sorts of barbs and criticism.
But that doesn’t take away the fact that sometimes, social media can be absolutely exhausting.
As I watch commentary on social media get more and more divisive with each passing day, I often legitimately wonder: Were so many people always this furious, this hate-filled over the decades when significant world events shaped our lives and changed how we do business? I suppose the answer is: “yes, of course, people have always been nasty.” I’d be way too naive to think otherwise.
The difference, based on what I can glean from researching history, is that before social media, you had to go out of your way to see and hear the negativity. Decades ago, no one had easy, immediate access to be cruel.
A couple weeks ago, I re-watched “The Post,” the 2017 film starring Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep that depicts the true story of The Washington Post’s pursuit in 1971 to publish the Pentagon Papers, much to the chagrin of the aforementioned President Nixon.
Had that scenario played out today, could you imagine the obscene lengths people on social media would go to pillory those journalists for doing their job? And to give fair play to the other side of the coin, how sharp would the pitchforks have been against the government for trying to censor the press?
Perhaps I’m wrong (and my older colleagues can teach me a lesson if so), but the fact that didn’t happen sounds like a good deal to me.
Kevin MacMillan is editor of the Northern Nevada Business Weekly. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.