On Tuesday, July 14, Moorestown residents spread out on the lawn of the Perkins Center for the Arts for a socially-distanced debate on a potentially pesky topic — “Resolved: For the sake of social discourse, we should all get off Facebook.” After months of lock-down and on-line dialogue, folks were happy to gather in person to talk about whether social media does more harm than good at a Braver Angels Debate as part of the Perkins Center’s monthly series called “Conversations on Culture.”
About two dozen folks sprinkled themselves on Perkins’s Evergreen Lawn that had been spray-painted like a checkerboard (8 x 8 foot squares). With each person in the center of a square, they were at a CDC-approved distance from their closest neighbor. While they sat more than six feet away from each other, when it came to the discussion, they found they weren’t that far apart in their ideologies and beliefs. They disagreed on some things, but there was a lot of common ground.
Dr. Joanne Broder Sumerson, affiliate professor at St. Joseph’s University, Psychology Today Magazine blogger and authority on social media helped kick off our debate as one of the opening speakers in favor of the resolution. She is currently co-authoring a book with the underlying theme that we should “unplug and hug.” Dr. Sumerson acknowledged that social media has many benefits and does not need to be avoided entirely, but that it’s important to realize that while we are using Facebook, it’s also using us. One of her biggest tips was not to post when you’re having an emotional reaction. First, take a deep breath, walk away for a minute and then re-read your thoughts before posting, she recommends.
Meredith Butts, a librarian and information and media literacy expert encouraged people to spend less time on Facebook and more time finding primary sources and reliable, credible media outlets. She also helped define for us the terms for nefarious actors, such as bots, trolls, and sock puppets and cautioned us to be aware of manipulations.
Kahra Buss, Executive Director of the Perkins Center for the Arts was opposed to the resolution, indicating that small, non-profits use social media to expand their mission and membership, as well as to solicit donations. Keith Spirgel, another participant, indicated that his company’s Instagram account has more than 10 million followers who provide real-time feedback on how they think the company is doing, enabling the corporation to quickly receive and respond to their customers’ feedback. Others who spoke pointed out that, especially in the time of this pandemic, having social media as a way to connect has been a lifesaver.
The group collaborated on ways to improve our social media presence, challenge our beliefs and inspire others to be their best selves while posting. At the end of the evening, participants were each invited to take the Braver Angels Social Media Pledge, and (for those who were resolved to stay on Facebook) update their profile picture with the Braver Angels Social Medial Pledge frame.
Braver Angels and the Perkins Center for the Arts hope to bring more opportunities for discussion to our community with the hope that the pandemic gets under control, so we won’t be etching checkerboards in the snow to continue meeting in the wintertime.
Braver Angels is a nation-wide organization working to depolarize America and help people find ways to talk with (and learn from) people of differing opinions. For more information, visit braverangels.org or contact Moorestown resident Karen Reiner, who is the NJ co-chair for Braver Angels. The Perkins Center for the Arts’ mission is to provide authentic arts experiences that enrich and inspire. Learn more at perkinsarts.org.