David Behrens: OMG! Why I resolve that Facebook has GTG in the New Year

I HAVE resolved to communicate more decisively in the New Year.


When, for instance, Mrs B next makes a special journey from the lounge to the kitchen to tell me that it looks like snow, followed by another to report that two flakes have landed on the Nissan, I resolve to leap into action.

I’ll grab a patio heater, warm up the sky and make it stop.

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Wasn’t that the expectation? Why on earth else do we go around telling each other that it’s going to snow whenever there’s a forecast?

My second resolution for 2018 is to communicate exclusively in sentences, not in those caveman symbols and acronyms that have become the lingua franca of the smartphone generation. OMG, ROFL, GTG. People seem to think punctuation is something that happens to car tyres.

I’m not the only one to lament our regression to the Stone Age. One of the people who used to run Facebook went on record the other week as saying he regretted the whole darn thing. Social media, said Chamath Palihapitiya, was destroying the social fabric.

“No civil discourse, no co-operation; misinformation, mistruth,” he said. It was refreshing to hear an honest corporate slogan for once. They should engrave it on a plaque and hang it above Facebook’s door.

His point was that young people especially were curating their lives around a perceived sense of perfection.

They conflate that with value and they conflate that with truth, he said.

His audience of students at Stanford University may or may not have taken this in; most of them were probably checking their Facebook messages at the time.

But he’s right. And what a happy new year it would be if his successors at Facebook joined him on the penitent’s stool.

Its crime against communication has been its capacity to reduce everyone who uses it to their lowest common denominator. If Facebook was a housing development it would have become a sink estate by now.

The most worrying aspect is its take-up among children. You need to be only 13 to open an account and even that age limit is not properly enforced. In what other pursuit would you allow someone at possibly the most vulnerable point in their life to step unaccompanied into a lion trap of abuse and vitriol?

Britain has a Digital Minister (his brief is digital, not his actual being) and he has said that social media companies could be fined £20m if they don’t take better care of their young users. Yet £20m is less than they’re saving under our lax corporation tax arrangements, by the way.

But rather than stamping down on misuse, Facebook has lowered the bar yet further, launching a messenger service in the US for children as young as six, with their parents’ approval. There isn’t a child in the world who doesn’t know more about technology than their parents, so I give the system ten minutes before the kids drive a toy truck through the security wall.

I don’t know a way around all this, except to make the service less attractive to children. Perhaps the Digital Minister could mandate that they be made to read a post by David Davis every time they log on.

All of which brings me to my third and final resolution for the New Year, which concerns Mr Davis and every other politico – and it is to take far less notice of them.

I should have listened to my gut last June, because I knew when the Tory manifesto appeared that the election would not be decisive. Indeed, I said so on this page, yet I chose not to believe that so many others could have been so wrong.

The whole debacle came down to Jeremy Corbyn telling voters what they wanted to hear, and Theresa May, motivated by a toxic mix of arrogance and complacency, doing the opposite. He tempted voters with bags of sweets; she slammed the sweet shop door on their fingers.

That so many young voters chose to believe Mr Corbyn may be down to gullibility or idealism or both. He is to British politics what Donald Trump is to America – a crackerbarrel philosopher who is taken by surprise when people start to believe him.

And on that thought, I set out on my decisive path through 2018. I’ll try to make it to next week with at least one resolution intact.

Happy New Year, and do let me know if it starts snowing.