Recently I’ve noticed a trend on Facebook: ‘controversial humour’ pages where witless people say deliberately shocking or provocative things and then take huge amounts of pride in the shock caused by their provocation. During the past two weeks I’ve been made aware of “[Disabled child] is ugly”, “Dead baby jokes”, and “Cancer is funny cause people die”.
Obviously, these pages are idiotic. I’m guessing that they’re created by fairly lonely individuals for whom any attention is perceived as good attention. It’s impossible for those of us with normal social skills to comprehend what would drive a person to create a deliberately offensive page. However, what I find more surprising than the existence of these pages is the way in which sensible people provide them with the oxygen of publicity by getting wound up by them. I only know about these pages because Facebook friends have either ‘liked’ pages set up to bring down the offensive page, or because they’ve joined hundreds of thousands of others in venting their disgust. And when you read the ‘ban this page’ comments, it seems that most of the authors are writing vitriolic “I hope you get cancer and DIE!” responses. It’s just one big swirling mess of lunacy.
In the case of the page bashing some disabled kid, it seemed likely that things got shut down in the end – evidently Facebook has some ‘you’re not allowed to be horrible about people’s disabilities’ clause. The other two pages don’t seem to violate any Facebook rules, though. You are allowed to make awful jokes about topics that are generally considered to be beyond the pale. Facebook is an American company, where free speech rules. And would we really want things to be different? After all, absolutely nobody is forcing us to read these pages or interact with the fools that create them – we can just ignore them and get on with our day. If people I know didn’t respond to stupid pages, people like me would never know that they exist. Who amongst us would idly search for cancer-bashing pages on Facebook, or try to find good collections of dead baby jokes? If the rest of Facebook responded with a blank stare and a yawn, these pages would vanish. The “cancer is funny cause people die” page is a good example: it has only 8,800 ‘likes’, but 756,182 Facebook users are ‘talking’ about it. Madness. Talking about it won’t make it go away, people – and all you’re doing is rewarding the guy that created the page. STOP TALKING ABOUT IT!
Actually, these laboured attempts to be shocking have no impact on me, but I do find myself getting a bit wound up when I’m exposed to Facebook content that demonstrates woefully ignorant attitudes held by people discussing topical issues. A recent example has been some Australian Facebook users’ online comments of the “send all the feckless refugees home – it’s our country, so stuff them” variety. (And again, I only know about these comments because people I know on Facebook have ‘liked’ them). Somebody I know ‘liked’ a comment of this type recently, which meant that my newsfeed contained a post (from somebody else in the thread, not from the person I know) that said something like ‘we should actually bomb the boat people’s boats, to stop them from reaching Australia. O-kaaaay.
Basically, I’d like everybody on Facebook to adjust their settings so the stuff they choose to ‘like’ or comment on doesn’t show up in my newsfeed. It would save me the effort of hiding people from my own newsfeed when I realise that they have political inclinations that I find vaguely horrifying.