Against Social Media

AOC is very much a product of our times, as someone with no experience and no credentials who overnight can capture the public spotlight. It’s not so much that her policies and ideas are nonviable, but rather the social media outrage and partisan divisions that they exacerbate, which compounds the problem. The New Green Deal, in and of itself, is a non-starter in any House vote, but because of social media, we are constantly bombarded by it, and politics is no longer restricted to the domain of Washington, news TV, and newspapers, but is everywhere. Although most of my criticism is directed at the left, outrage from the ‘right’ is also tiresome, but in their defense, it is usually in response to the left, not that they are instigating it. If AOC is tweeting about how her Green Deal will miraculously create tons of jobs and boost the economy despite the numbers not adding up, she should be called out on it to dispel this misinformation, yet at the same time this only fans the flames of the culture war (because dialectic is seldom ineffective in a medium ruled by rhetoric) , so it’s like fighting fire with fire.

Our era of outrage culture makes everything political, but also makes everyone complicit in some way, and even abstaining can be interpreted as a silent/tacit vote of approval of something. Consider the Smollett and Covington stories. The supposed racism of the Covington boys is a creation of social media and would otherwise not be newsworthy in any way if not for all the social media attention it got. Both stories were built on lies and false narratives that were both created and amplified by social media. Due to peer pressure, people are conditioned to believe such narratives without questioning them first, because to do so would elicit to shaming and ostracization for not ‘getting with the program’ and showing solidarity, even if built on a lie. If all your friends are tweeting about how Jussie Smollettis is a victim or how the Convinton boys are racist, by not retweeting, then that can be interpreted as condoning racism.

Social media, which includes Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter, gives a voice to the lazy or low-information, who may be unable to otherwise articulate their views in article-form and are easily swayed by peer pressure. This is why such platforms are so popular with celebrities, who have a a lot of followers and can use platforms such as Twitter to not only promote their movies or music, but also to affect public opinion on issues. Until the mid-2000’s, if someone wanted to express their opinion or approval of something, they either had to write an op-ed or maybe start a blog, but now it’s as easy as re-tweeting or ‘favoriting’ a tweet. As an example of how social media is used by celebrities to spread false information and foment mobs, in 2012, to show his support for Trevon Martin, Spike Lee tweeted what he thought was the address of George Zimmerman, but the address belonged to an elderly couple, who were subjected to harassment by Lee’s followers. Lowering the intellectual barriers to entry produced much more quantity, predictably, much of it bad. It makes me long for the Bush era, back before social media and social shaming was even a ‘thing’.

Not only does social media stoke outrage and anger, but also fear and paranoia from possibility of one’s career or ambitions being undone by transgressions past or present, whether it’s an embarrassing yearbook photo from decades past that resurfaces, an unsubstantiated sexual assault accusation, or a seemingly harmless joke or gesture misconstrued by the Twitter mobs as racist. George Allen’s “macaca” remark, which was captured on videophone and uploaded to the YouTube, where it went viral and was picked up by the mainstream media, in the process possibly costing his 2006 Virginia governorship candidacy to his democratic challenger Jim Webb, was a harbinger of the 24-7 social media panopticon to come. It has gotten so bad that entertainers such as comedians and musicians have to use special devices to restrict the use of social media and smart phones during their events.

Although social media is used to break stories (such as video footage being uploaded to Twitter), and then such stories are picked up by the mainstream media and re-tweeted regardless of veracity, as we saw with Covintgon, if new information is revealed and the narrative changes, and then through the bottom-up process, the mainstream media is forced to amend the story. So, one positive is that social media can be used to correct false narratives, yet if it weren’t for social media many of these narratives would have never gotten off the ground in the first place.