Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but the rise of social media as a platform to air grievances about anything and everything has changed the adage to “everyone is entitled to my opinion.” The democratization of knowledge and viewpoints becomes dangerous as the number of shares, likes and retweets act as a means of validation for the original poster. The means of communication have changed drastically in the past 20 years, but not necessarily for the better.
We have developed what can only be described as a hypochondriac mindset in regards to the news. Public acknowledgement of fake news has increased since the election, but the susceptibility has not changed. While we mock our parents for sharing another Facebook hoax claiming widespread virus attacks, we readily open and share articles made by teenagers in the Balkans asserting a government lizard conspiracy. In fact, an Ipsos Public Affairs survey conducted for BuzzFeed News found that 75 percent of the time, American adults cannot distinguish between real and fake news headlinfend or fight whatever it is—even if it isn’t true. The post-truth age we live in scares me senseless. As I’ve observed, rationality has never been a particular strength for people, and with the advent of fake news and the increasing prevalence of social media, I fear that this will be taken to an unpredictable extreme Democratization is the root of the problem. Long-winded attacks on institutions or individuals can easily be typed up and posted with no regard to factuality or simple grammar . Everyone is suddenly an expert, while real experts are denounced as hacks or part of a treasonous plot. But when we add our insights to oft-repeated notions on society, government and the millennial generation, we preach to the choir of our friends and peers, disallowing the attacked to form a coherent response before the situation spirals out of control. Each ‘love’ reaction and ‘like’ reaffirms our intelligence and satisfies our need for validation, if only for a short while. Opposition is relegated to the comments section, and those who dare take the bait post meandering rebuttals under the guise of ‘discourse.’ Facebook fights are notorious for vitriolic language and ad hominem attacks, but what really comes out of them is frustration and closed minds. People, wrapped up in their intellectual egos, use turns of phrase reserved for the most emotional situations because subtlety has virtually gone out the window. It’s no wonder Godwin’s law exists. In 1990, attorney and author Mike Godwin asserted that “as an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Hitler approaches 1.” In my observations, each conversation—if two headstrong individuals engaged in their own monologues can even be considered a conversation—devolves to histrionics and bitter sarcasm so that neither party comes away from the exchange with a sense of enlightenment, just reaffirmation of their self-proclaimed intellectual superiority over the anonymous Other. Neither side walks away having learned anything new. What we’re left with is anger, if anything at all. We avoid any contrary interactions so as to preempt any ill will, leaving the original problem in the dust as we latch onto the new, shiny think-piece of the day.
In this day and age in which partisan hatred is now crowd-sourced and retweeted, it is strikingly easy to see the opposing side—conservative or liberal, old or young—as less intelligent or informed. Too often have older conservative individuals come after young liberal adults affected by the news of the day, labelling them as “snowflakes” or “bleeding hearts.” The dirty laundry of generational differences is aired out in the open, and at the end of they day we write each other off as either too old and senile, or too sensitive and immature. The Internet has allowed us to develop a mob mentality that is neither healthy nor productive in an increasingly divided society. We take solace in the connections the Internet offers. Nevertheless, when that connection results in name-calling, eye-rolling and down-votes, we have the ability to simply unfollow or unfriend the offending individual. This issue is not exclusive to conservatives, either. While I and my peers will see the most opposition on public posts from conservative members of Facebook, there are legions of liberal individuals dedicated to spreading their message by shoving it down the throats of unsuspecting moderates. The issue with that is this: no one opinion can be the law of the land. Growth is conducive to wisdom, but the typical millennial activist has become the mouthpiece for a half-formed opinion on the latest buzzword of the week, willing to step on and shame those less radical than they.
This is in no way an angry declaration of Luddism. Social media has allowed regular users to pick up on issues important to them and to add their views. Viral videos of an Asian passenger dragged off of a United Airlines flight by airport police have resulted in a Twitter and Facebook frenzy, culminating in tangible losses for the troubled airline to the tune of $1.4 billion in stocks. Public platforms have granted minorities a place to share their stories and just as importantly, call out cultural appropriation. Hashtags like #BlackGirlMagic, #WhiteWashedOUT and others exalt achievements, reclaim identities and so much more. Medical bills for children with life-threatening illnesses and tuition costs for struggling teens are covered by strangers through platforms like GoFundMe, YouCaring and DonorsChoose. But for every child whose bills are covered, thousands of others go untreated. Not even six hours after the news of the United Airlines controversy broke, memes trivializing the incident began appearing on my Twitter feed. How can we expect to move forward when anything remotely serious is reduced to a joke for the likes?
There is no need to waste energy denying the power and importance of social media. What needs to be done is to learn the nuances of social media interactions, engage in fruitful conversation in which the ultimate goal is to learn and grow and utilize core values of respect and compassion.