5 Reasons We Need To Slow The Hell Down On Social Media
Social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook are full of amazing people, hilarious jokes, and insightful commentary -- any of which can throw people into a murderous rage at a moment's notice. It's a great time to be alive.
But as with most great, murder-inducing things, there are a few downsides to these websites. Because of the speed with which they encourage us to respond to things, we can get into all sorts of trouble. As is so boringly the case, the solution to most of these problems is just slowing the fuck down, but because I know you really don't want to do that, I've broken it down a bit into some concrete "do-not"s and ... more "do-not"s. Not a lot of "do"s here, basically. For your rage-ameliorating pleasure, here are the five least-helpful ways you can react to things online ...
Social media encourages and rewards rapid response. You can quip back and forth with friends, your puns literally moving at the speed of light. Or you'll think up an obvious joke about a current event and need to get that out there before everyone else does. Or maybe you'll just be swimming in your everyday rage and want to channel that before it seeps into your pancreas and kills you. As with so many things, it's the people who speak loudest and fastest who will tend to have the most people listening to them. And social media networks know this. That "reply" field is right there for a reason.
Speaking quickly and without thinking is often hilarious and profitable, but there are unique problems when doing it online. To illustrate, let's first consider an offline example. Were you to scream "Ass-gargler!" at your boss during a meeting, that would certainly dazzle and intimidate the people in the room, and probably get you fired. But outside the room, people would only hear about the incident in whispers. And outside the company, people might not hear about it at all. You probably wouldn't have your life ruined over it.
But online, everything you say lingers in the public record. Even if you delete the offending words, there's always a chance that someone got a screenshot of it. Or, you know, that it was archived in the Library of Congress. There are plenty of tales of people ruining their lives because of something they blurted out on social media. Like the woman who made a stupid racist joke, got on a plane, landed several hours later, and found out her tweet had gone viral and she was now widely hated. I'm not excusing racist jokes, but I'm a stupid guy, and know that stupid jokes pop into one's head every now and then. There's an art in not saying them, and social media doesn't exactly encourage that art.
Another weird side effect of social media is that it amplifies the importance of everything you say. What might have been funny (or at least tolerable) when taken as an off-the-cuff statement looks a lot worse if it's considered as a published statement, which is what it ultimately is. Your words are just there, hanging out, giving people time to pore over them and pick out all the meanings you never even considered.
Never say anything online without a team of PR professionals, is my main suggestion, I guess. Workshop "ass-gargler" for a few days. Let that shit simmer.
Dragging Someone Else Into It
Twitter has this fun feature wherein you can tag someone else into a conversation, ensuring they see your message and any replies to that message and so on. It's a fun way to open up conversations to people who might be interested, and it's also basically the worst thing one human being can do to another.
OK, that's still probably murder. Or overlong hugs. Maybe manspreading.
But anyways, it's not good. The main problem is that this other person might not want anything to do with the conversation. Even if they know the person who tagged them, they might not care about any of the other random strangers chirping away in the Twitter canoe they find themselves in. And these conversations can go on for days. Imagine if your phone chimed with a notification every time someone posted in a random YouTube comment thread if you want an idea of this particular hell.
Worse is what can happen when a person with a lot of followers tags someone. Your followers are essentially people like you, except a bit less clever and quite a bit meaner. Which means if you've got a lot of them, tagging someone (in particular an enemy) is a pretty sure way to flood that person's notifications with hundreds of angry, less-clever versions of you, all swarming and shrieking away like a bunch of you-shaped monkeys.
Actually, that sounds kind of rad. I regret mentioning it.
Here's another less threatening but still irritating situation: Someone speaks ill of a celebrity. On its own, this is a fine, healthy thing to do. Well done, all involved. But then one of this person's followers tags in that celebrity, and suddenly they're in an awkward conversation with @frandrescher. Aside from being an awkward thing to do to the insulter, it's even worse for the insultee. What are they supposed to do when they find out someone insulted them? I get insulted online only a fraction of what I probably deserve, and I still hide under thick blankets every time it happens. I can't imagine what an actual famous person feels when ... oh, that's why they have people read Twitter for them. Right.
It's nice when you learn something that you already know! It fits right in! And since it's already right there on Twitter, you don't even have to condense it down to its most salient 140 characters; you can just retweet it and let your friends know what they almost certainly already know about too.
But hang on. Is the thing you're retweeting actually true? Like, you know it's true, and you're right about roughly 100-105 percent of the things you believe. But would a panel of independent experts and ex-lovers and mountaintop-dwelling monks agree? What are your obligations to verify the information you retweet? Retelling a lie uncritically might be more innocent than conceiving the lie in the first place, but it does just as much damage.
Back before "fake news" meant "everything I don't like" and "CNN," the term got applied to cheap websites which were set up entirely to publish insanely untrue news stories in the hopes that they'd get spread by gullible Facebook users. But any form of social media is prone to this, as is any political persuasion. Since Trump's election, there have been dozens of loosely researched liberal fantasies making the rounds about how Trump is supposedly close to impeachment, or how he got stuck in a jar of honey. People want it to be true, sure. I get that. But it doesn't make it true. We're not powering Santa's sled here, folks.
So what is this lesson? Think before you tweet, think before you tag someone, think before you retweet? This is exhausting. Let's lighten the mood a bit ...
Making Jokes When The Mood Is Not Right
Twitter is great for jokes. That might be what it's best for, except when it's freaking out, which is definitely what it's best for, forget what I said earlier about jokes.
A necessary part of telling jokes on Twitter is keeping up with what everyone is talking about. This not only lets you know the references people will get and the jokes that are already badly worn out, but will also let you know when people don't want to hear jokes at all. During a disaster, or a terrorist attack, or one of the existential crises which seem to afflict us so much more frequently these days, no one wants to laugh at your fucking Smurfs gag. Come on. I don't need to tell you why.
OK, aside from the timing, it's not very woke, pal. Smurfette can do what she wants on her own terms. It's not for any of us to judge.
Anyways, this is most glaring-
Oh, also it's long been implied the Smurfs reproduce asexually, so it's not even like that accurate.
Anyways, this is most glaring when it's done by corporate Twitter accounts. Many companies draft and review all their tweets well in advance, just to make sure all their messaging is on-brand and whatnot. They then schedule the tweets to be posted at a later date. But by taking the human element out of the timing of their jokes -- or at least assigning it to some weekend intern -- these companies can end up in exactly the disaster they were trying to avoid. Lowe's or Little Caesar's might not accidentally praise Pol Pot or something, but if they make a joke when everyone else in the world is weeping, it's almost as bad.
The intent behind the callout is pretty understandable. When people say racist, sexist, homophobic, or other awful things and get away with it, it only emboldens them -- or their friends -- to say it again. So we shouldn't remain silent when we see this stuff in the wild. That's what the callout is for; you see someone say something awful and call them out for it. Maybe they'll reconsider what they said and apologize for it. Or maybe they'll just shut up. Sometimes this can get a little heated, and insults generally get tossed around, but hey, why use kid gloves when dealing with a racist, right?
But does it work?
When you get criticized online, your immediate reaction is usually to get defensive. You're right, you're always right, so these people criticizing you must be idiots. You marshal counter-arguments, find allies, and dig out your own childish insults to hurl back at your critics. It takes some practice to stop and consider whether the critics have a point, especially if that point is accompanied by insults and calls for your immediate death. You like living! It's the only thing you're good at.
The limitations of social media probably amplify some of the problems here. Character limits leave room for insults but not persuasive arguments. And the fact that this is all being done in public lends everything a performative air -- you're not being criticized so much as being stunted on. It's less "Here are three things you haven't considered" and more "I call for your immediate death by bees" while people applaud thunderously.
I guess if the intent is to punish the person being called out, then it still kind of works. They get their nose publicly bloodied and a partial fear of bees, and maybe it discourages their peers from speaking up in the same way. Or does that just drive that speech underground, sending our racist but possibly redeemable foe scurrying into the arms of people even worse than them? That doesn't sound good.
But even if they are irredeemable, the problem exists within progressive communities as well. For instance, there are a number of issues that fall under the umbrella "feminism," which feminists have differing opinions on and pretty heated arguments about. The degree to which transgender people should be included within feminism, or the relative morality of sex work, for example. "Heated" might be an understatement; the arguments and callouts can get pretty vicious. And this is for people who agree with each other on like 98 percent of their worldview.
In the same vein, consider the hilarious agony some college students go through when deciding whether it's OK to wear a sombrero at a party or ask for a sushi night in the cafeteria, for fear of getting called out on social media later about cultural appropriation. The discourse about the discourse is getting problematic, folks.
So I don't know. We probably shouldn't let racists be racist, and that logic seems like it should extend to other social ills as well. But think long and hard before making those callouts, especially the insult-laden ones. They're probably doing less good than you think.
And a sombrero sushi night is fine, guys. It's fine. Just space the chairs out a little more so you don't keep bumping into each other.
Chris Bucholz is a Cracked columnist, takes 12 days to react to anything, and may technically be a plant. As the author of the amazing novels Freeze/Thaw and Severance, he thinks you should definitely go buy both of those now. Join him on Facebook or Twitter.
Hey baby, is that a tweet in your pocket or is it a bird shaped g-string?
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