Joelle: Thank you for participating in Inside The Looking Glass! Please tell us where you live and what you like to do for fun/work/learning?
Brian: I live in the New York area and cover breaking news for CNN – elections, demonstrations, extreme weather, and those stories that grip the public consciousness for a few hours or a few days. My fun times are family time, and my wife and two kiddos love being outside hiking, biking, camping, grilling. I play ice hockey in a men’s league, obsess over Phish, collect and consume craft IPAs. I voraciously read non-fiction. Rotating in the bag this month is Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential, Michael Isikoff’s Russian Roulette and Madeleine Albright’s Fascism: A Warning. Aside from my colleagues’ reporting, I get my news from the New York Times and the New Yorker. I subscribe to both. I listen to podcasts, too – Stuff You Should Know is a reliable listen, as is The Daily and Tom Marshall’s Under the Scales, again feeding my aforementioned obsession.
Joelle: The original Facebook Portrait project started in the latter months of 2008. One of the things that strikes me is the difference between how optimistic people were about the ability to use it as a force for good ten years ago. I think that optimism is still felt in some areas, much less so in others. Overall, how do you feel about your use of social media now compared to ten years ago? Do you still feel optimistic about using social media (if you ever did to begin with)?
Brian: I’m still optimistic. Social media, like all powerful things, can be incredibly impactful when used for good. It’s terrible when it’s commandeered by bad actors or mobs. It can right wrongs in a way we’ve never seen before, at all levels of power.
Joelle: I’ve often found the way people interact with strangers on certain social media platforms—how they communicate, the words they choose—can both inspire and degrade. What sort of boundaries do you keep i.e. what you are willing to post, what won’t you post, or comment on, for that matter?
Brian: I keep it professional on my public-facing account: Twitter. That’s for news, a little humor, but (hopefully!) nothing too controversial or private. I stick to confirmed facts around breaking news, avoid conjecture and speculation, aim to inform. I keep Instagram and Facebook private for friends and family.
Joelle: Have you connected, and established relationships, with people you’ve met on social media (not via dating sites) you wouldn’t have otherwise? How has that impacted your life – good or ill?
Brian: Absolutely. Without a doubt, I wouldn’t have a career without Twitter. It’s where I established my reputation, it’s where I met future bosses, it’s where I’ve connected with dozens of colleagues, many of whom I’ve developed friendships with in real life. I’m in a group of journalists who happen to be rabid fans of a particular rock band and we’ve had meet-ups, we’ve gone to shows together, collaborated and exchanged ideas. That’s been great.
Joelle: One person I spoke to recently characterized herself as a “deactivator” – meaning that in her approach to social media overwhelm she would go inactive on her accounts when she needed to step away and regain a sense of self, privacy, control… Heuristically, this makes sense. Deleting your account is a simple shortcut to solving the problem of overwhelm. I’ve done it, though I never feel completely distanced. Also, I think overall the media has, more or less, been forced to cover certain prominent individual’s use of social media because they use it to directly communicate with their followers. Even if you aren’t an avid user, it’s become an unavoidable aspect of modern life. Have you found yourself in a situation where you needed to deactivate? Was it effective in achieving what you needed for yourself?
Brian: I deleted Twitter from my phone when my second kid was born, and it was the most delightful thing. You gain an amazing sense of perspective, of what matters day in and day out, when the daily outrage cycle isn’t a tap away. I got to consume news like a normal consumer for a while, which was helpful, and then when it came time to dive back in I reinstalled the app and, for a while, maintained a sense of peace. That’s gone now, but if I ever want it back I’ll just take a break and recalibrate once again.
Joelle: Most people agree that it’s a pretty great thing to have so much information available to you through the internet and I think people like being able to share information so easily through social media platforms. That hasn’t changed. But, the other side of that is that a lot of the information we see is at best biased and at worst, completely fabricated. Do you feel like you are able to spot or decipher truth from fabricated or distorted truths? How so?
Brian: It’s certainly harder now than it’s ever been online to sort truth from fiction, but that’s where, I hope, journalism and the news media can help. It’s always been our mission but now more than ever journalists are here to spotlight the facts, without favor, and let you decide how you want to handle them. We all can’t agree on our opinions but we have to agree that facts are facts are facts, and they are indisputable, before we can move forward as a country to solve our greatest disputes.
Joelle: If you could change anything about social media, what would it be?
Brian: I miss the days when it was all new and special, when the discourse was good and positive, when we were building the community together (deciding on things like retweets and at-replies ourselves), and the loudest, most controversial voices didn’t suck up all the oxygen and spoil the vibe. If I could change thing it would be that – a return to a respectful discourse.
Joelle: Bonus question: music, book or movie. Pick one and list your favorite.
Brian: Movie: The Truman Show. It’s just such a perfect package for me and makes me misty-eyed, without fail, at a few points throughout the movie – when he realizes it all revolves around him, when he sets sail, when he hits the wall. It’s a powerful imagination of a reality that’s like one or two steps away from actually happening if someone had the money and wherewithal to do it, which is terrifying, and was ahead of its time in a way.