‘Fighting the good fight’ online

You know the itch – you hop on Facebook, Reddit, or Twitter, having recently decided not to engage in any sort of argument while you’re there. After a few scrolls on the mouse wheel or turn of the thumb, you see several dumb comments that certainly warrant some response, but you know better. You continue to scroll.

Finally you see it: the comment or video or meme, so stupid, so oversimplified and shortsighted that you’re flabbergasted that someone in their right minds would even post it. You understand some of the opposing arguments to your values and ideals, but this? This is too far – it’s too dumb.

You type out a long response. The fire in your mind echoes through your fingertips as you burn through their so-called arguments and show them what’s what.

Or maybe none of that happened. Maybe you simply saw something online, and you resonated with it – a meme, a short but concise paragraph on politics, a rant from a park bench or a truck or a living room – it speaks to exactly what you believe. It’s something you couldn’t quite articulate before, but now seems so obvious. Or maybe you thought it was cool, funny, and might get a rise out of the other side of the political aisle.

Welcome to the world of politics and ethics on social media.

My first question is: does doing these things (responding to posts, sharing rants, putting up political memes either ironically, casually or seriously) actually do anything? My second question is: Does it actually do harm to your own cause?

First of all, they absolutely do nothing. The ideas we’re generally playing with are huge ideas that cannot be boiled down to a phrase or rant in a truck. If you think they do and that some meme succinctly covers the broad idea you’re tackling, you likely do not have a good understanding of the ideas you’re trying to push.

All they do is stroke your own ego, and allow you to show your friends with similar values how virtuous you are. They do nothing to reach out to those with opposing ideas – at the very least, don’t lie to yourself and try and convince yourself that these posts are for anyone but you and those who already agree with you.

But does it even bolster your own side? Probably not. The only ideas I have worth having were certainly not gained or even improved by superfluous content on Twitter or Facebook. I have learned far more from the scientific subreddits than I have from the comments sections on r/politics or its cousins.

So at the end of the day, these posts are mostly just a waste of everyone’s time.

Secondly, it may even be worse than that. Not only do these posts or responses do zero good, it may even hurt the cause you’re rooting for, even if your points are correct. Everyone has access to the internet, so even the most intelligent, but still ultimately unknown authors of these posts are simply adding to the noise. There are a thousand people shouting various slogans, recycling the same arguments, and to the other side it all sounds like is static. When you toss another “in-depth” response into the mix, it doesn’t clarify anything, it adds to the noise. It adds to the incoherent rumble of modern life.

Sure, there are some exceptions. It would be disingenuous to believe that the #metoo movement was not substantial, and it did make tangible waves across the country. Regardless of what you think about the whole thing, the #metoo movement used the hashtag system effectively, and it not only spread like wildfire, but company policies actually saw change. However, this is an exception to the general rule.

The only people I really want to hear from online are experts on the subject. No, not “I have read many articles and watched many videos on the subject” experts, but people who have lived and worked in the field. Agree or disagree, I’ll read those posts on social media. Anyone else’s? A waste of my time that only contributes to the deafening noise that has been overwhelming the airwaves of the internet.

Recently, I have tried to use social media as a place for uplifting, funny, cool, scientific, or interesting news and articles. I feel very strongly about my politics, and I will debate and argue all day in their defense while keeping an open ear for better ideas. However, believe it or not, there are ways that are infinitely more effective than an oversimplified meme or a long response on Reddit or a multi-post on Twitter. In-person conversations or even personal messages can work – just try not to waste your and everyone else’s time. The internet is loud enough as it is.


Featured image from Adobe Stock.

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