Watching old original black-and-white episodes of Dark Shadows recently on Amazon Prime, then watching the congressional hearings of Facebook’s Zuckerberg, I had an epiphany. The undercurrents, disturbing undercurrents of Dark Shadows (the 1960s television series), and the vastness and dark shadows of Facebook’s underbelly are connected in myriad ways with the rot at the core of our democracy. We are normalizing deviance with our social media platforms, allowing sick people to post ugly videos and fake political advertisements.
In 2017, Facebook earned $39.9 billion, 85% of its money from advertising and had 2.23 billion active users, which is probably more by now since 400 people sign up every minute. Sure, most millennials, 15 million according to one article have moved off the platform and onto Snapchat. But. Many of these platforms are offshoots of Facebook and overseen by the corporation. The vastness of these social media platforms can potentially influence millions, if not billions of naïve people around the world. The fact I knew nothing about the dark shadows of Facebook makes me wonder about what’s lurking in its basement. Is there just one vampire in the coffin during the day? Or are there thousands, perhaps millions?
The connection between the 1960s television series Dark Shadows and Facebook came to me after watching the YouTube videos of the congressional hearings about false advertisements on social media platforms. I watched as members of the House of Representatives, especially the newest and youngest members questioned Zuckerberg during their allotted five minutes. I’ve only recently returned to Facebook after leaving the platform when rape jokes were a big hit years ago. I chose to keep my Facebook circle of friends small. Later, I was persuaded to add a Facebook business page. I’m still debating whether that has been a good business decision.
So, when I listened to the freshman class of representatives in our U.S. Congress question Zuckerberg, I was shocked to learn Facebook employees must review grotesque violent videos before determining whether to allow them onto the platform. Thanks to Katie Porter’s professionalism and precise questions, the world now knows about the plight of Facebook employees. These Facebook content monitors get “a few minutes” alone to recover from what they’ve seen by the Dark Shadow dwellers in the basement.
The fact that violent videos manage to get onto Facebook even with these measures sickens me. It’s bad enough that the atrocities in New Zealand were recorded by the mass murderer and uploaded to YouTube. It’s even worse to learn thousands of trolls all over the world were busily copying the video and uploading it to YouTube. YouTube’s Herculean task to remove the millions of copies alarmed me the most. The idea that so many sick people, who may even be our neighbors, would gleefully copy the video of worshippers being gunned down, babies no less, shocked and enraged me. I began to ask myself: What kind of people get their kicks out of watching these violent videos? How many psychopaths are there in the world? And how many of them live in my town?
I can’t imagine my neighbors having anything to do with that frenzied feverish need to copy a violent video. Perhaps I’m naïve. Perhaps my trust in the goodness of my fellow human beings is misplaced. I wonder if the rise of hate and fascism in the world is due to the explosion of unregulated social media platforms. Social media platforms are becoming too big and too powerful. They are spreading lies, hate, and violence in a matter of minutes. And this rise in lies, hate and violence are accepted based on a flimsy interpretation of our First Amendment? Where does the First Amendment give permission for lies, hate, and violence?
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
I’m still hopeful that the violent video made by the mass murderer and the copies made were done so by a few people using bots. If they were bots, then maybe there aren’t as many dangerous psychopaths in the world. Although, the bots could have been created by foreign countries hoping to undermine democracies. Another possibility is that these bots were created by hackers who happen to be homegrown racists in America. It’s obvious over the last twenty years that there is an effort by certain groups to start a race war. Whoever these Internet zealots are, I have a sinking feeling evil is on the rise and evil has been given a powerful weapon.
I commend the YouTube staff in their desperate attempts to scrub the monstrous video from the Internet. And now to discover people are uploading violent videos to Facebook feels like the last straw. As a result of these discoveries, I’ve chosen to limit my time on Facebook and carefully screen any videos on YouTube.
Political advertisements on Facebook, while annoying, don’t disturb me as much, because I dismiss them as biased now. Any political advertisement playing on any platform is by its nature and construction an opinion and most likely untrustworthy. Back in the old days, I used to trust political ads, because I didn’t know any better. Then I went to college and college classes, especially the Philosophy and English classes taught me the myriad ways sophists and crooks attempt to influence the public. Since then, whenever I hear or see a political ad, I tune it out. After reading many books about the Holocaust, I’ve learned Hitler and his fascists used propaganda, both subtle and blatant, to undermine reality.
And now, more than ever after the Cambridge Analytica scandal, I’m more vigilant about Facebook’s advertisements. It’s been my habit for a decade now, when I see ads on television, I immediately mute the set and walk away. I rarely watch regular television anymore. I prefer PBS, Netflix, Amazon Prime or movies I check out from my local library. Consequently, when I see a product placement in a television series or in a movie, I sneer and vow never to buy the product.
After Katie Porter’s revelation about violent videos having to be screened by content monitoring employees, I recognized a connection between the 1960s television program Dark Shadows and our current social media platform Facebook. Both the old television program and the social media platform include dangerous undercurrents: secrets, violence, and unnatural acts which traumatize innocent people and ruin families.
I now think of Facebook the way I think of Dark Shadows. There are three levels to Facebook and Dark Shadows: the first level is similar to Collinwood Mansion where the rich and pampered spend their time eating fancy food on expensive cutlery, traveling to exotic locations, or prancing about in gowns and coiffed hair. This first level also includes the townspeople of Collinwood, Maine. The hardworking everyday people of the town who spend their time on Facebook posting funny videos or photos of their friends and family. They, like the rich residents are a mix of types: the clueless, the pathologically scared, the enablers and the brave. The brave are my favorite characters. The brave, when they become aware of evil, choose to fight the monsters in the basement.
When I think of first tier Facebook users, I think of all those millions of pictures taken over the decades of succulent plates filled with vegan dishes or plates filled with mouthwatering pastries. The plethora of these useless photos have always puzzled me. What is the photographer’s objective? Is his or her intention to shame Facebook users who aren’t vegan? Or maybe they want to impress other vegans? Or maybe they obsess about food because they’re always hungry? I’m still puzzled by these pictures and can’t help but wonder how Facebook users who are poor or homeless feel when they come across these photos of plates filled with delicious food, knowing they will never have the luxury of sitting down in a restaurant, where it is warm and safe, free of noise and exhaust fumes, being served by others, much less the luxury of eating healthy eye-appealing food?
Another group of first tier Facebook users are the ones who constantly show off their beautiful homes or photos of their annual vacations in exotic locations. Do they cram their platform with these polished images to thumb their nose at the rest of us, we who drive old cars until they fall apart and hope the furnace will survive one more winter? Well, I’m pretty sure these users aren’t even aware there are people on Facebook who have to skip the dentist to pay the rent.
And why should they care? We live in bubbles, MSNBC and Fox News bubbles, as well as Facebook bubbles. And we are segregated by our occupations, our class standing and our religion which means the economic and religious classes never have to mingle with the rest of the world. And the rich now have their own transportation, their own private planes, bullet-proof vehicles and helicopters, so they never have to subject their eyes to the sights, smells or sounds of the “great unwashed,” unless they happen to bump into one:
- when one blocks the threshold of a fashionable Parisian entryway by spreading himself on the ground near the door,
- or when one makes a bed for herself on a street corner.
I feel especially sympathetic to the first tier Facebook user desperate to find love, showing off his or her assets with touched-up photos or decades-old photos back when they were slimmer, younger, and wrinkle-free. Heaven forbid these users upload photos or videos of what they really look like today: disheveled with sleep in their eyes and ketchup stains on their t-shirts. Well, some honest users do include photos of themselves and their loved ones sleeping with their mouths open or in their grubbiest clothes. But that is the exception.
The first level also includes the hardworking townspeople of Collinwood who aren’t as lucky as the rich Collins’ family. The Collinsport, Maine townspeople spend their days on their feet serving the Collins menagerie. They are most likely the ones who serve them coffee or beer or drive them to the train station or teach their spoiled children. Their Facebook images and videos are more realistic than the Collins’ gallery, they include family pets and kids playing in plastic pools on a hot summer day or modest meals around the kitchen table.
And the homeless? Where do the homeless fit in with Facebook’s first level? Well, the homeless can get on Facebook at the library and post pictures from their phones, maybe pictures of their friends sitting on park benches, or smoking a cigarette to stave off the hunger pangs. I’ve even seen them playing with their beloved pets. I often wonder if the homeless are more likely to grab photos off the Internet instead of putting them on Facebook. Maybe they don’t even have Facebook accounts? When every day is a fight for basic needs like food and shelter, why waste your time on Facebook? And when I use the metaphor of Dark Shadows first level, I’m inclined to think the homeless would be easy prey for the monsters who live in the basement of Collinwood Mansion. Think of videos created by predators who find homeless people willing to fight each other for a few bucks.
Facebook’s second level, for average users, are where the bedrooms at Collinwood Mansion are kept, where users flirt with each other and search for mates or have extramarital affairs. They are not the vampires, wolves or witches. They are just average people ruled by their libidos. But the second level also includes thieves and trolls who want to get the first level users’ personal information, so they can steal money from their bank accounts, or like the young heir to the Collins fortune did in the first season, search through suitcases, purses and personal diaries. For these types of users, think of Cambridge Analytica or trolls stealing precious photos of grandma’s family off her computer and demanding payment for their return.
I’ve left the worst for last, figuratively – the underbelly of Facebook, the basement dwellers. Average people don’t even know they exist. They tend to live in the shadows, in the basement, where racist chat rooms lurk and violent videos of stabbings, suicides and murder stew in their own foulness. The victims of these basement dwellers are the Facebook content monitors who as a part of their job description must watch the videos, which experts suggest could lead to PTSD. Any normal person would be traumatized by the depth of depravity in these videos. The victims also include suicides and poor animals killed for the pleasure of the sadists. Then there are the monstrous sexual predators who enjoy keeping mementos. You know a society is sick when a social media platform like Facebook has to hide the need for these gatekeepers.
Of course, these basement dwellers are nothing like Barnabus Collins, the character in the 1960s television series. They’re not even close to your typical fantasy vampire, wolfman, ghost or witch. No. These basement dwellers are much, much worse – they’re human. And humans are the most dangerous predators on the planet. They are serial killers, mass shooters, rapists, and pedophiles who get a kick out of luring or hunting down innocent people. They may feed off you for a while, but eventually they’ll toss you aside as so much garbage. The saddest basement dwellers of them all are the sadomasochists who love doling out pain and getting some in return.
Unlike Victoria Winters’ character I’m going to steer clear of the Collinwood Mansion’s basement, our Facebook’s underbelly where racist chat rooms and misogynistic platforms lurk. And unlike Victoria Winters, I would never align myself with anyone who allows these videos to prosper on the Internet. Instead, I want to do my part to prevent these dark shadows from taking over the Internet. Vampires hate the light of day, so let’s illuminate the underbelly of social media and Facebook’s violent videos. We need to find the psychopaths, force them into the limelight and cure the desire for violence and hate.