A friend of mine told me in a private message on Facebook a couple weeks ago that “social media is destroying this country.” He has a point. While social media has been an opportunity for the average person to have a much larger voice in political and social issues than ever before, it also carries a lot of negatives. The biggest negative is what I like to call the “Social Media Outrage Machine.”
Two stories illustrate this. First, a professor called for white people to commit mass suicide over slavery. While this is factually correct, it is also false. He was not actually calling for white people to kill themselves. He was being sarcastic. And as it turns out, Sir Tim Hunt was also being sarcastic in remarks made about why women are not qualified to be scientists. Unfortunately, we live in a nation where people live on a hair-trigger and are ready to be outraged at any moment, over something the least bit plausible. We also live in a nation where a lot of people are too dim-witted to get sarcasm. Social media allows that outrage to spread in a way that could not happen twenty years ago.
I admit, much to my shame, that I have also fallen for things like this far too many times.
So what is the answer? First of all, bookmark Snopes.com and be ready to use it. Snopes has been a great resource in refuting some of the silliness I see on social media. Second, when you see something trending, investigate it before you post about it on social media. This is especially important if what you see outrages or angers you. Do not just hit “share” or “retweet” because what you are sharing may not be true. It is also possible that it is factually correct but very misleading, like a sarcastic comment taken out of context.
We may not be able to put the genie back in the bottle, but we can avoid being part of the problem.