In a Word, Power

Social media is a big presence in our world.  Today more than ever, we need to mind the power of the word.  I am not speaking of bullying, or foul language, or hurtful rhetoric. The beast we need to be most aware of?  REPETITION.

Have you ever noticed that internet accusations spread like wildfire?  Weird and unusual facts abound. A funny meme travels faster than light.  We are curious creatures who want the inside track. Our egos are gratified if we are perceived as clever, witty and in-the-know. The problem of course is that social media does not increase intelligence.  It is a display forum, where we revel in our own status and grasp at artificial acceptance from those in our periphery.

I love Facebook and willingly participate in the dance.  Social media is fun, and can offer insights.  It is a useful tool, as are guns and knives.  Be conscious of the whirlpools of emotion and think of them as traps for the unwary. Outrage seems to be the current, highest fashion.  Why, if our friend is in high dudgeon we must support them by sharing in their anger.  The fact that they are in distress fuels our own sense of protectiveness and fury.  In their defense and your own swelling wrath, it is of the utmost necessity that you spread knowledge of the wrongdoing and invite others to your pod of anger. The pool of negativity grows ever wider.

Racism exists. So does sexism.  Social inequity is a struggle all races , classes and species have faced since the beginning of time.

I have friends who post regularly on these issues.  We have more social justice warriors busily attempting to spread knowledge and fix our ways than at any time in the past. Is it working?

No. Funny enough both people of color and those of lily white persuasion were more satisfied with the state of race relations twenty years ago than at the current time. I was astounded to read actual statistics on crime in 2016.  I expected that white on black crime was up, that rape had dramatically increased, that we are in effect going to hell in a hand-basket. Facts do not support the outrage I read.  Yes, of course there are heinous examples of abuse.   Statistically speaking however, they are rare.  They are the exception and not the rule.

Yes we need to take the exceptions seriously and work to fix our issues.  What is not helping?  The internet.

For example, we see the word “racist” a hundred times a day.  Through repetition we create an awareness.  Through outrage and anger that awareness intensifies. I am not a racist, you argue.  Oh you don’t think so, comes the response, but you are the recipient of white privilege. I am poor, you splutter in response.  Irrelevant, comes the defense. Etc, etc., etc…You have now been tagged with a label, one you perceive as unjust. Defensiveness causes the breaches between your positions to widen. Soon you can barely communicate, both sides irate at the lack of understanding.  The rift has been aggravated and widened.  Racism is now an issue on an emotional level, all involved feeling misunderstood, labeled and vulnerable.  Has this been in any way effective at reaching an understanding?  Furthermore, has this rift been fueled by fact or runaway emotion?

We have added new vocabulary to our online battles, words like patriarchy and feminazi. Words catch on and spread, gasoline to our flames.  Cuck, libtard, fascist…through repetition they capture our attention, root in our imagination and take hold of our consciousness, escaping with gleeful chuckles as we hit the share button. Is this our chosen method of influence? Are we adding to our social dialogue in a positive way?

Just look at our recent election cycle.  Catchphrases repeated over and over. Cartoons that mock…not in the traditional  editorial style expected of the fifth estate but memes and artistic mashups, the more hilarious the better.  Entertaining?  Definitely.  Sadly perhaps, often influential.  Yet only a limited number of originators have in depth understanding of that they mock, and in many ways have stripped the proceedings of any gravitas.

I am all for artistic expression but we need to remember a few things.  Facts are important. Because you have seen a post does not mean it is true.  Because a friend is outraged it does not mean they are right. Peer pressure is a genuine phenomenon as is mob mentality. Social media is simply a tool.  It is your responsibility as user to decide if what you post is of true value. Think about what you read before you react. Have you looked at facts?  Have you examined issues from both sides?  Are you furthering communication and understanding or are you simply widening a pool of outrage for entertainment’s sake? In your quest for entertainment are you actually damaging someone?  Spreading hatred or sowing mistrust? Why do you feel the urge to post at all?  Is it an emotional reflex or logical response? Are you effecting change in a positive way?

Repetition is not truth.  A word holds power; thanks to social media, more power now than at any time in the past. Choose carefully. Research your facts. Understand and think before you jump in or elect to share. Posts are communication shorthand.  Every word counts. You have influence.  Wield it wisely.