Social networking has done many good things. I am not among those who decry it like so many Luddites, wishing for the good old days when we had no contact with friends and relatives until those awkward meetings at holidays or special occasions. It’s not that all contact on Facebook or Twitter is healthy or even that family relationships are always bettered by that contact. But recovering lost connections alone has redeemed the platform for me; that has been a delight.
Now, once people start to converse, opinion and personal taste come into the picture. Invariably there is going to be difference there. And those differences are even amplified because
- people write things they would be hesitant to say and
- those who hold the same opinions/have the same tastes tend to congregate and promote their side of things.
Concerning the second point, I call those congregations “tribes” because of their like-thinking and common expression of ideals, principles and loyalties. Such expression assumes the moral superiority of the tribe, and inferiority of those who differ. Honor is given to the tribe and shame to the opposition.
Now, there’s nothing new with polarity of opinion. I recently caught up with the HBO series on John Adams and admired its honesty. Whatever unity founded the United States quickly disintegrated into ideological disparity with key figures in utter disagreement and even nasty infighting. And yet the union remained. Arguably the debate and divergence is necessary to keep the nation intact and on track, though that track zigzag.
But in social media, the polar discourse has made popular a particular method of expression – the meme. This is a picture or colored backdrop with a tribal statement emblazoned over it. It has become so popular that some people literally communicate in no other way. That’s a problem because:
- The truth doesn’t matter. There is literally so much exaggeration, false information and false attribution (the person in the picture had nothing to do with the statement(s) cited) that even the emotions behind the message are inaccurate. And those posting don’t care. (Yes I did worry a bit about my satirical George Washington meme – he wore a wig! – being taken seriously)
- The motivation of the opposition is perverted and vilified. Again, this is nothing new. But misquoting, false attribution and assumption of inferiority/evil is commonplace. No merit to another point of view is even entertained.
- The misinformation is then gobbled up by gullible, uninformed tribal members who then cite it as fact and go about life with pride and hatred on their sleeve. Even worse, “friends” are disgraced if they do not repost the meme – the ultimate in juvenile communication.
- Redress is attacked as trolling. “Friends” either agree or are evil, as the meme indicates. Replying with anything other than agreement is simply not allowed.
There’s no naivete in my part here. Disagreement is healthy. And people are going to get nasty when they do that. But if lies are spread, the truth will interrupt in an abrupt way at some point. I would protect my friends from that. Furthermore, there are memes that are just funny and entertaining. I’m not talking about them.
The truth is that both sides of most arguments have some nobility in them. And some misunderstanding of the other side. I’m a peacemaker so I will do my bit to reconcile where I can.
So mindless memes – NOT those who post them – are an enemy of mine.