One of the problems with circular echo chambers like Tumblr, Facebook, WordPress, or Twitter is that we mostly follow the voices that confirm our own preconceived beliefs while shutting down the evidence that runs counter to our bias. We’ve locked ourselves up in self-preaching choirs and impregnable ivory towers. Our life philosophy is then reinforced by the buzzwords and bloggers we want to hear, and we demonize a phantom enemy that isn’t anything close to a real person or idea, neglecting to engage with the real world and the very real issues at hand.
On a long enough timeline, you and I become radicalized into a new kind of fanaticism, devoted to our out-of-touch, fact-devoid, isolated cages. With so many actual injustices abounding that need solutions, our faceless debating hijacks the limelight and resources from the deficit of the people we claim to be rooting for.
This is a vicious cycle that continually perpetuates misinformation disguised in pieces of truth. Some of these truths are necessary, which is all the more reason it’s a travesty that they’re buried under a blind clicking frenzy. We buy into an aggregated “fringe platform” of like-minded ideologies that only feeds itself, like the mythical dragon ouroboros that chokes on its own tail, which only attracts people who already agree and don’t want to be challenged. This common delusion appeals to our basest urge for socialization and vicariously victimizing ourselves on behalf of someone else’s “inspirational tragedy.” Never mind that it’s the other person’s everyday life and only your two second click of a like button.
It gives us a self-righteous tingle to think, “I have the insider knowledge and you don’t.” It’s a shiny trophy of “online education” that will swell your ego and high-five the hive-mind, but it does nothing and goes nowhere and has no real chance of dialogue.
If this makes you mad, then it might be too late for you. I understand though: we hate the possibility of being on the “wrong side” and “losing face.” Being rejected by your group of yes-men or criticized by the opposite side feels like death, and we either self-destruct or destroy others. And to actually work to understand the issue? It’s too hard. We’re in love with trying to change the world by looking like we’re trying to change it, with pretty text on a screen.
The only way to uppercut our inclusive little fortress is to be challenged and questioned with the force of a freight train. Before we jump on any claim, whether from headlines or a pop blogger, we must ask ourselves, “Where did I hear that from?” and “Why do I believe it to be true?” And only then can we land somewhere.
This is harder than you think. We’re naturally wired to confirm what we want and dismiss what we don’t want. Me included. That’s how cults and political camps and prejudiced pundits keep in business. We’re each so dogmatic that someone only needs to know 10% of your platform’s social media content to guess 80% of what you’re going to say next. At least 60% of the information you’re sharing is wrong and it’s shared because of the urge to blend and express. And there’s no correlation between tweeting an article and actually having read the dang thing.
This one-sided internalization leads to an ugly dehumanization, in order to maintain the superior identity of our own particular platform. It consequently breeds a culture of public shaming that often instills aggression instead of remorse, and you end up with bigots who are bigoted against other bigots, but don’t think it’s bigotry.
I’m not above this. We’re each prone to become intellectual jerks and bullies by upholding ourselves and stomping on others. In turn, social media tends to make you more deeply entrenched and polarized, because the more you tweet something, the less likely you are to backpedal on yourself. By taking your own humility hostage, you’ll skew your view of reality and suffocate your interaction with others by filters of bad statistics, sensational anecdotes, and one-dimensional caricatures.
If you’re not getting every side of the issue, from reputable sources and peer-reviewed journals and even bloggers that you emotionally despise, then you’re imprisoned in a box of recycled air, with zero room for growth, in a cesspool of self-affirming, cherry-picked entertainment. Blogs and social media, no matter how “trending” or articulate or witty, cannot be our sole means of education and information: but for 61% of people who are 18 to 34, we’re trusting a viral newsfeed.
If your instant reflex is to throw hate on every contrary opinion, instead of discovering how and why such an opinion was conceived, then you’re part of the problem and not even close to approaching a tangible solution. If you’re reblogging commentary with anecdotal diatribes or snarky sarcasm or more questionable stats, you’re the reason why Tumblr and Twitter have become punchlines in every comment section in existence.
The other problem is that even the supposedly good work of “spreading social awareness” isn’t automatically a good thing. It leads to a passive, static ideology that assumes a media blitz from your basement is equivalent to action. If you believe changing your profile pictures are the same as activism, then you’re no better than the news organizations that you belittle. “Social awareness” actually decreases the amount of real charity at ground level, and in fact is detrimental to the very cause that’s being championed. By yelling about it, we assume we’ve done something. It’s why the campaign “Bring Back Our Girls,” even a year and a half later, hasn’t been able to bring back a single one of the missing girls.
I believe, of course, that the internet and social media have made large strides in actual change and charity. For every misinformed blogger or lazy slacktivist, there are at least a few deeply moved people who have created sustainable differences. Patients in and out of hospitals are getting better health news. In some third world nations, social media has helped to mobilize communication, even beyond the initial hype of euphoria, by the proper sharing of information and eyewitness testimony. And believe it or not, but the Ice Bucket Challenge worked. Maybe because for all these groups, they were living through the things they talked about, and had no choice but to seek the truth and rise up.
My advice? Don’t trust me. Don’t believe so quickly. Question everything. Be open to adjusting your most preciously held views. Be okay saying, “I don’t know.” Take in a diversity of agreeable and opposing opinions before forming your own. Be involved, not merely online, but in your home, workplace, schools, with the poor, with the government, in art and culture, and next door. And if you’re going to roll up your sleeves, get informed with the best way to help, with enough depth that you’re not a one-time visitor. I need this as much as you do. I’m preaching it to me, too.