Yesterday I read a 60-comment debate on Facebook about the Occupy Wall Street protests. Actually calling it a debate would be rather generous – it was mostly “teabagger” this and “Fox News that.”
The whole thing was started with a someone posting a panel of Captain America saying to stand your ground and captioning the picture something along the lines of “Not saying I support OWS but everyone should keep this in mind.” The first comment by, let’s call him “Jeff,” simply stated he had no use for OWS and thought they were pretty useless.
The next 59 comments were basically two or three other people taking Jeff to task for not standing with such a noble group. It was painful to read, but for some reason I kept coming back to it. Jeff tried, I mean really tried, to make his point about OWS being similar to Communism and about a general libertarian view with analogies and facts with supporting links.
What did he get for his trouble? “I thought I smelled the stench of tea,” was one Facebooker’s first response before proceeding to work in “teabagger” into every subsequent reply. Jeff was then accused of parroting Fox News and right-wing radio talking points (Jeff said he doesn’t listen to radio and found Sean Hannity boring). He gets called a right-wing extremist who “doesn’t listen to the other side” and finally gets the exhortation to “just go ahead and blow me up.”
Mind you, this was only a few people out of the many friends the original poster had that kept this back-and-forth going. And mostly the argument seemed more based on emotion than facts – indeed, at one point one of Jeff’s detractors, after repeatedly being beseeched for any kind of fact-based argument, said “I could give you facts, but you’ve already made up your mind.” What a total cop-out.
This illustrates to me the utter failure of social media to bring us closer together, especially when it comes to politics. Instead of some sort of thoughtful discussion, the entire exercise quickly degenerated into a rhetorical gang-tackle, blaming the one guy who dared to have a different opinion than his friends of not being amenable to debate.
I recently watched a TED conference excerpt where the speaker, whose name escapes me, warned that social media would only allow us to insulate ourselves further in a bubble of like-mindedness, an echo chamber where all of our current positions and thoughts are buttressed by digital yes men who tell you that everything you think is right and everything anyone else thinks is not only wrong, but mean-spirited, inhuman, and probably dangerous.
Social media – ultimately it may do more to drive us apart than to bring us together.