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In defence of 'Fakebook' - Why putting social back into media is site for sore eyes


It’s full of horrid trolls, painful influencers and insufferable people for whom “followers” is their only currency, but social media can also be a place for community and kindness, writes Rebecca Levingston

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I’ve always called it FakeBook.

People don’t show their true face online do they? If you know you’re getting a curated story of people’s lives, you can decide what’s real and what’s not on most days I reckon.

Perhaps it’s because I’ve met so many people in my radio studio who are beautiful and blissful online, but as anxious, tormented or flawed as the rest of us in real life. I like social media. I just don’t believe it.

I am going to defend FakeBook in a moment, so prepare yourself.

Oh and as for Instagram, I genuinely like it. Scrolling through countries with TikTokers and cinematographers, you stumble across cows in Switzerland or Drive-by Kindness where a lady cruises around yelling ridiculous compliments at strangers.

Insta-Joy when you least expect it like that hilarious guy in Ireland with the bat, or the dancing comedian who’s bizarrely good at lip-syncing. Reels of surprises, stupidity and occasional facts. Scroller beware of course. Curate with caution.

This brings me to the bird.

I had no idea how long I’d been on Twitter but I was reminded this week. I got to work and opened the Twitterverse when a cheery animated message popped up to celebrate my Twitterversary.

“Holy twit, I’ve been on Twitter for 12 years,” I exclaimed, as I began to doom scroll.

“Time to get off,” yelled my colleague. “It’s toxic.”

It is. But there are also some lovely moments, hilarious conversations and news, lots of news. I can’t turn off the bird. I can’t leave the nest.

Coincidentally, there are some incredible feathered photos shared on my feed from accounts that I can’t even recall following, but I appreciate them when they pop up as a timeline cleanse. Good morning to Duck of the Day. Yeah, it’s just pictures of ducks.

Twitter can also give me reading recommendations I’d never have come across a decade ago. Deep dives from New York thinkers or Scandinavian adventurers that take you up metaphorical mountains and Middle Eastern newsbreakers who’ll have you holding your breath like you’re underwater.

Remember the Fail Whale? That’s my earliest memory of Twitter when Richard Fidler and I were working together at ABC and this new world of word salad was still taking shape.

Richard and I came up with The Twits which we spruiked as a prestigious award ceremony for online twitchers. With ridiculous fanfare and secrecy we unveiled the best tweeters according to … us. The Fail Whale popped up when Twitter got overwhelmed.

The top prize was the Golden Twit. The esteemed and much-missed Mark Colvin was given the gong for his mastery of stuff and nonsense. He accepted graciously. Mark made Twitter a better, smarter place.

As Australian politicians promise to make anti-social media giants take more responsibility for hate, misinformation and addicted kids, I want to give a shout out to a local community Facebook group for the social they put into media. Discovering them was like finding a group of really decent humans standing on Mark Zuckerberg’s lawn.

I’m not going to identify their location, because I don’t trust the Internet not to be nasty. But when I scroll though this group’s posts, it reveals a kaleidoscope of accidental friendship.

Lost dogs, found earrings, someone looking for a job and someone offering work. Simple life-changing connections. Happy tears. A lonely local who can’t find friends, suddenly inundated with coffee dates. Lawn tips and pool advice. Parrot and possum problems. Gratitude posts and shout outs to strangers.

A knitter wants to thank the person who dropped off maroon wool at her door for her Qld blanket. A mum of “giants” is chasing second hand school uniforms. A bloke who “used to play a bit of tennis” is wondering if anyone else is having trouble finding a partner for a hit. A young bloke short on cash is looking for a haircut. A glasses wearer is looking for a recommendation for an optometrist who’s good at matching frames to faces. When someone needs a lift, someone in the virtual neighbourhood always offers.

A nurturing page administrator conducts gentle mental health checks. People can post a coloured emoji that shows how they’re feeling. If a purple heart pops up, guaranteed offers of help are plentiful.

Every couple of months there’s a “what have you got” and “what do you need” free for all, which is like scrolling through online trash and treasure. It’s gorgeous to see people’s generosity. No celebrities, just real people. It’s not perfect, but it’s a place where group members are comfortable. So bravo, local page. You win the Internet.

Social media is a phenomenon that connects and hurts in equal measure. Get on it or off it if you like. Believe what you read or don’t. It’s not the news. But it can be a place for good.

Still don’t believe me? Check out another of my favourite groups – The Kindness Pandemic.

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