Social media has huge benefit when used well

There was a social media blackout on Monday, October 4 with Facebook, Whatsapp and Instagram all down for six hours

There was a social media blackout on Monday, October 4 with Facebook, Whatsapp and Instagram all down for six hours - Credit: Nastya Gepp

Perhaps it will be this century’s equivalent of the question I used to ask my father: “what did you do in the war, daddy?” After the great Facebook outage of Monday, October 4 2021, will children of the future reverently ask: “how did you cope without Whatsapp and Instagram, mum?”

Now, I am not best placed to offer an impassioned view on this subject because, to be frank, I was working on council business for nearly all of the earth-shattering six hours in question and did not even notice. When I did have some time to myself at the end of the evening I did not make a dash for TikTok (whatever that is) but instead watched Sunday’s Match of the Day 2 on the BBC iPlayer to check out Mo Salah’s goal of the season contender for Liverpool against Manchester City.

I only realised that the “outage” had happened on Tuesday morning when, to my astonishment, this was the lead news on Radio 5. My initial reaction was that of a standard issue 59 year old male, “so what?” It has been easy to form the somewhat reactionary view in the last twenty years that a period of enforced absence from social media would “do people good”.

It’s of a piece with “go out and get some fresh air”, “try reading a book” and “he isn’t a Nigerian billionaire, he is a crook trying to obtain your bank details”, all of which I am sure I have said to family and friends in the last year.

It also fits with my rather unoriginal peeves about the invasion of privacy. We all know that if we have Alexa lurking in the background and say to our spouses “we need to get the car insurance sorted” then when we look at Facebook a minute later it is chocker with ads for car insurance. This gets even spookier when we say it in someone else’s house, our phones acting as mini betrayers of our locations every nano-second.

The argument against my reflex disdain is, well, you signed up for all this rubbish when you accepted Facebook and Whatsapp into your life for free. There is, and has never been, any such thing as a free lunch. The argument for my disdain is that while in our own culture this is relatively benign, in unfree countries it is used to deny freedom of speech and manipulate public opinion.

Ultimately, however, there are so many nuances to all this. The comms department at East Devon District Council makes truly excellent use of social media. An example would be in the recent very challenging period for our waste and recycling services.

Firstly, comms has done its best to direct messaging to all local Facebook groups to a) apologise for the less than complete service b) explain why c) ask residents to bear with us and to keep putting recycling material out for collection, even if it might be picked up a few days later than normal.

Of course some of these posts have attracted a few rants from residents, and if that’s their style on social media so be it. But the vast majority of comments have been positive and engaged, and if one of them poses a specific question one of our team does their best to answer it.

The council is also proud that its waste and recycling app has been downloaded for use by no fewer than 33,000 East Devon residents, and in doing so it has become the most used local council app in the UK. Also popping up in the last few days is a lovely little video from the EDDC team about the new electric street sweeping machine we are trialling.

So, like any dad-joke telling bloke, I may occasionally mock social media, but it’s here to stay and when used well has a huge public benefit. Smiley face emoji.

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