Anti-social media in Altamont

It’s always been my opinion that people choose to live in Altamont because they want to be part of an actual community. That being the case, folks here tend to get out of their houses, walk, bike, mingle and so on. They attend concerts, visit village businesses, and create groups of friends and acquaintances that don’t exist in the ’burbs or the cities.

But in the last year, the pandemic threw a wrench into village life and many folks tried to fix that by creating virtual meet-ups, groups, and communities online. Some worked, some not so much.

The best examples I’ve seen are the Altamont Virtual Garage Sale group on Facebook and the Buy Nothing group, also on Facebook. Both have helped folks in rough times and from what I’ve seen, they’ve been friendly, pleasant, and last year, helped a lot when we canceled the village-wide garage sale. They continue to do good work even as things are getting back to pre-COVID days.

On the opposite side of things is the Altamont Community Facebook group, which currently has about 2,300 members (which oddly exceeds the total population of the village). Things there can go from nice to ugly in a matter of posts and do so far more frequently than they really should. The administrator of the group does a truly superb job of keeping things reasonably sane but considering she’s a volunteer, it’s very sad she must do that.

What seems to set folks off are certain hot-button issues like crime, policing, personal freedoms, personal disputes and NIMBY type issues (Not In My Back Yard). People asking for help finding a plumber are usually met with multiple helpful suggestions. People complaining about a perceived crime, or a personal attack generally seem to start World War III and I’m not sure why.

I suppose it has to do with differing age groups, multiple opinions, and folks who engage their fingers or thumbs before their brains. I’ve watched perfectly innocent remarks be attacked as if someone said a nasty thing about your parent or spouse.

I recall a recent tirade had to do with somebody outside the village who allegedly set off a cannon for giggles. Once things got rolling, the discussion devolved into name-calling and silliness.

I’ve seen similar things happen when crime comes up. The recent spate of nails on the roads has spawned everything from calls for vigilante justice to warnings about white slavers. Really, folks?

This seems to start when someone reports a suspicious person seen, a car broken into, a package stolen, or something nonviolent — just unfortunate or inconvenient. The next thing you know attacks on law enforcement are countered by attacks on accused criminals, millennials, folks of other races, and then the MAGA hats pop in and well, you get the picture.

The truth is, everyone has an opinion, and they are all entitled to them. But just because someone disagrees doesn’t make them a bad person.

The whole internet act of trolling, wherein a troll attacks someone just to create discord, get clicks or eyeballs, or hurt others is not something you would expect to see in a small-town discussion group. And yet, there seem to be folks here who are more than ready to attack on a moment’s notice.

Ironically, many of those same folks would never say such things in person, so the much-vaunted internet anonymity, once again, has bitten us in the collective butt.

I can’t say I have an easy solution for this sort of discord. But, there actually is a solution. It works by religiously following a couple of steps:

— Step 1: Read a post several times and then sit quietly away from your device and consider what was said and why;

— Step 2: Before you type in a response, ask yourself honestly if your response will help or hinder the situation;

— Step 3: Remember the age-old advice that states, “If you have nothing nice to say, then don’t say anything”; and

— Step 4: If you still feel the need to respond and you’ve passed the previous tests, then, add your two cents worth.

If, after all that, the discussion still descends into chaos, throw your device away or, at the very least, get off social media. Some things are better left unsaid and wise people have always known that. Let’s all try to act a little wiser and maybe things online can stay pleasant.

Editor’s note: Michael Seinberg has been involved with multiple social media platforms on a professional (actually paid) basis since the early 2000s and says he’s still not clear why.