The Social Dilemma in Coronado
When I recently explained to the members of a private Facebook group (Coronado Electorate) that I have administered for the last several years why I am no longer posting political content to social media and will no longer actively moderate the group, I first advised that they watch the Netflix documentary The Social Dilemma, which examines the damage social media has caused to our society. In this article, I will explain how social media (Facebook in particular), has damaged our town (Coronado, California).
Before I explain how Facebook has adversely affected Coronado, I'd like to briefly explain how I got to this point of ceasing the posting of political content on social media. It started with the hateful message on my family's answering machine earlier this year from a community member who saw my Facebook post about a small & peaceful drum circle I held at Cays Park in honor of George Floyd and the civil rights movement. [warning: graphic language in video of answering machine message below]
I initially considered this answering machine message an aberration, however when I took a closer look at our local community Facebook groups, it became clear that a substantial percentage of the town's residents agree in principle with the man who left the message on my machine. When I started to get more hateful messages from other community members posted to my personal timeline that echoed the sentiments from the answering machine message, as well as a punctured tire on my family's minivan (slashed from the side, not the bottom of the tire), I decided to personally leave all of our local community groups except the ones I administer myself as I could at least administer my groups for civility and keep the partisan and racist content out. More recently, there has been an uptick in personal attacks from staunch supporters of the mayor... unprovoked attacks against me personally, attacking my character and credibility. I have observed countless similar attacks against friends and other community members. Bottom line, I have a family to protect, so I'm out. I will continue to post family photos on my personal timeline for my friends and family, but no more political content on social media for me, as it has proven to be exceedingly dangerous.
Now, let's examine how Facebook has adversely affected our town, and to do this I'd like to reference 3 concepts from The Social Dilemma documentary... the first of these concepts, is that with the proliferation of social media, there is no more "shared reality." Much like how Fox News and CNN present very different world views, and people are more likely to watch whichever network most closely resembles their own ideologies (which serves to reinforce their own beliefs), with Facebook, each member has their own customized "feed" that includes their Facebook "friends," pages and news sources they have "liked," and groups they have joined. To keep its members engaged and "addicted," Facebook's algorithms are programmed to give their members exactly what they want to see [including divisive partisan content] - i.e., their "feed" reinforces what they already "like" - so in a sense, on Facebook everyone is living in their own "Truman Show" reality. When you place thousands of Facebook members, each living in their own customized social media world that reinforces their own beliefs, into a Facebook community group that has no defined purpose, then in the absence of conscientious moderation... chaos, division, and vitriol is often what results, and this is exactly what we may observe in many of Coronado's all-purpose community Facebook groups. This brings us to the next concept from The Social Dilemma I'd like to examine -- at the end of the documentary, former social media tech giant executives and programmers are asked where they think America may be headed as a result of the proliferation of social media, and one scary response was "civil war." Now, when I look at Coronado's largest community Facebook groups, I think it's a very fair characterization to say we are already in a "social media civil war" playing out on keyboards with our largest community Facebook groups as the battlefields. Coronado's largest all-purpose community Facebook groups have been polarized along partisan lines, and every major issue during 2020 has been infused with partisanship -- e.g., the pandemic with mask wearing and enforcement, the civil rights movement and related protests & CUSD anti-racism action plan, and of course the upcoming November election. Within each of our largest Facebook community groups where these topics are addressed, the "right wing" and "left wing" factions are engaged in fierce battle, full of vitriol and personal attacks, pitting neighbor against neighbor, and friend against friend. This is not productive discourse... it is much like the first Presidential "debate" between Trump and Biden... i.e., hostile, replete with personal attacks, and ineffective moderation. In the context of the American Civil War, Southern states seceded from the Union that constituted the United States, and civil war ensued. Secession loosely refers to leaving a territory to form a separate territory, and we are seeing this phenomenon with our local community Facebook groups. Coronado residents who have been around during the last half decade may remember when there was only one main community Facebook group called Coronado Happenings - it was the only group of its sort in town, and remains the largest of its type today. Over the years we have seen several smaller groups "secede" from Coronado Happenings to create their own "territories." However, it is the most recent secession that is most troubling as it relates to Coronado's social media civil war - as the admin for Coronado Happenings has become a left leaning force that staunchly opposes Coronado's Republican endorsed Mayor, a right wing faction from Coronado Happenings has seceded to create a new group called Coronado Happenings 2.0, which has since merged with another group that seceded years ago from Coronado Happenings called Love Coronado Forever, to create a rapidly expanding right wing community Facebook group that serves as fuel to the fire for the Coronado social media civil war, along with other partisan based Facebook groups such as Coronado Republicans. I would imagine for anyone reading this who is not from Coronado, this may all sound insane.. and I assure you, it absolutely is. Now, this brings us to the final concept from The Social Dilemma that I'd like to examine, and that is the ethical ramifications with social media. In The Social Dilemma, many former executives and programmers from social media platforms go public to express their ethical concerns with what they have created and the adverse effects they believe these platforms have on society. Much of the documentary focuses on former Google design ethicist Tristan Harris, who went on to co-found the Center for Humane Technology that aims to raise awareness about how social media technology is intentionally designed to be addictive, as well as social media's contribution toward false information, misinformation and political extremism. I personally feel that Coronado needs a similar think tank to create a conscientious social media community, and I believe we need to start with our largest community Facebook groups, where the "social media civil war" in Coronado is playing out. I do not say this to toot my own horn, but as an example of a local conscientious community Facebook group, the secret Facebook group I created called Coronado Electorate (CE) was founded conscientiously with a very specific mission, vetted membership, and a rule of civility... CE has remained at roughly the same number of members for years, and does not seek to expand. While I am no longer actively moderating CE, the group remains civil, as the members have learned over the years what civil discourse means in the context of the group. CE is a nonpartisan group that does not discuss partisan politics. To contrast, when we look at the two largest community Facebook groups in Coronado (i.e., Coronado Happenings and The 92118), the administrator of Coronado Happenings created the group "on a lark," and The 92118 was created purportedly as a special event group for 92118 Day, then after the special event, the administrators converted the group's purpose into Coronado's 2nd largest all-purpose community Facebook group... so both of these groups were created without a long term conscientious mission, and over the years they have been moderated loosely, resulting at times in a toxic environment fostering vitriol and division. In addition, both of these groups have been in rapid expansion mode since their outset. As a general rule, the more members, the more challenging a group is to moderate. Coronado Happenings celebrates with each new thousand members added and now has almost 25,000 members, which is roughly equal to the population of Coronado. The 92118 recently merged with another Coronado all-purpose community Facebook group called Coronado Connect, to solidify its position as Coronado's 2nd largest community Facebook group with almost 5,000 members. Both of these groups are infiltrated by trolls and the mayor's hit squad, which makes meaningful discourse on local topics very challenging. In this age of the proliferation of social media, our community Facebook groups have a tremendous impact on the delicate social fabric of our community, and these groups should be administered responsibly and conscientiously, or they will result in what we see now - i.e., the battlegrounds for our social media civil war. As many Coronado residents on Facebook are too deeply embedded in their own social media Truman Show realities, addicted to the dopamine/adrenaline rush from engaging in social media warfare, and are unlikely to cease fire, it will be up to the administrators of the community Facebook groups to moderate conscientiously in an effort to put an end to this community vitriol. Toward this end, I have created a list of Facebook community group administrative guidelines for a "Conscientious Coronado," which, if pledged and adhered to, will serve to create meaningful, productive community groups, and discourage the continuation of the social media civil war in Coronado. I respectfully request that all administrators of our local community Facebook groups consider taking the pledge below.
CONSCIENTIOUS CORONADO - administrator pledge • I am not administrating my group for my own ego, but for the betterment of my community • I will moderate my group conscientiously, with the best interests of the community in mind • Once my group has reached a reasonable number of members (~1,000), I will not actively seek to expand my group's membership (by, for instance, merging with other groups), but will allow my group to expand or shrink organically • I will not allow partisan content or division, unless it is to discourage partisan interference into our town • I will not allow personal attacks in my group, and any comments or posts containing personal attacks shall be promptly removed [exception: criticisms of government and elected officials without fear of reprisal is the fundamental purpose of the First Amendment] • I will not allow content in my group pertaining to national politics or other topics that have a tendency to foster division • I will promptly remove "trolls" and group members who demonstrate unwarranted hostility and vitriol toward other group members • I will not participate in community groups that are partisan based which serve to fuel the fire for the social media civil war • I will endeavor to provide a safe environment for community members to discuss local topics without fear of personal attacks for civilly expressing one's views • I will moderate my group for civility, and any uncivil content will be promptly removed
Daron A. Case, Esq.
Resident letters submitted to Coronado Electorate News & Commentary (CEN&C) are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of CEN&C. Submit letters to CoronadoElectorate@gmail.com