Last Friday evening, I much like millions of other people around the globe, found myself glued to the coverage of the terrorist attacks that were taking place in Paris. Hour after hour of horror and shock mixed with conflicting reports from different news organizations left me nearly exhausted. I decided to turn the channel to something brainless and wait for the morning. My motivation being that we should have a clearer picture of what had taken place and who was responsible and so forth. That is when I made my mistake.
I decided to head to Twitter to see what the world was saying in reaction. Twitter, in my opinion, is a far more useful social media platform than Facebook. The limitation of characters forces the poster to be short and to the point and therefore it is very easy to decide whether or not the person you are reading is a lunatic. As I had figured, it was scroll after scroll of short but sweet, “Pray for Paris” tweets with very little difference between them. A few clicks of the thumb and I found myself on Facebook. That is where I found myself getting angry.
When I was a kid, we used to go to my Grandmother’s house almost every weekend for family dinners. I remember only a couple of constants.
- There was always either opera or Russian classical music on. Which didn’t thrill a 6-year-old me.
- Onion dip. Don’t ask me why but there was always an enormous bowl of onion dip and ridged chips waiting for us when we got there. No one complained.
- A large meal. Russian meals have no rhyme or reason. You will get meatballs and potato salad. You will get hot roast beef, gravy and pickles. Its odd. But it works. Trust me.
- Discussion about politics over coffee. Which even at 6 years old struck me as odd and I’d find myself thinking, “aren’t we not supposed to talk about this stuff at dinner?”
My family is not the exception to this rule. It is a common misconception that neither politics nor religion are widely discussed in polite company. However, I wager that you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who’d consider their family to be, “polite company.” That’s a different story. As I grew older, I realized that this rule only really applied to when people are in public. Even then its impossible to frequent bars or restaurants without at least one over-heard reference to something political. So I began to think about it. The rule, at least in the current time, now only seems to mean that it is impolite to talk loudly about politics in polite company (public). The problem is; with the advent of social media and more to the point, Facebook, no one seems to be concerned with being polite anymore.
You’d think that people being slaughtered by ideological lunatics would warrant a modicum of respect… at least until the attacks were over. Wrong. Before the blood had dried, both sides of the political spectrum were spinning the attacks into their own respective webs of absolute garbage.
My friends on the right;
- Do you see what gun control does now?!
- CLOSE THE BORDERS
- Islam is evil and must be destroyed.
- France is weak, it got what was coming to it.
My friends on the left;
- Before we speculate on who the attackers were, let’s get all the facts! (after numerous confirmed reports that it was radical Islamists.)
- Oh great, now we’ll have a new wave of Islamophobia.
- Not all Muslims are terrorists. (I agree with this one… however in the context of timing these posts seemed more like the musings of apologists rather than genuine concern for discrimination.)
All of these posts cropped up during and within hours of the reported end of the attacks. The problem with these posts aside from the nauseatingly poor timing is this; with the advent of social media, we have a large segment of the population which believe themselves to be experts on everything. It gets worse. The glaring issue with pseudo-expertise born from social media exposure is that it is solely based on snark. The concept one adopts of themselves is glaringly different from the actual product when they post something sensational. The problem is; on social media, the idea of oneself is immaterial. It is a fake world, filled to the brim with escapists and loudmouths. The glib factor that comes from sharing something that was created only to anger or irk the “other side” should be enough to prevent most people from being as secondarily vocal as they become during times of crisis. However, in a fake world, this is simply not the case because there are no immediate repercussions.
Does social media make us ignorant? Perhaps. It definitely seems to soothe the idea of seeming ignorant to others. So what did I take from the onslaught of ill-timed posts? Basically nothing of substance. It did however, further my notion that the electronic world is eroding our ideas of propriety. We no longer need to stand up and face real-time criticisms of our narratives. We can back up our points with memes made by other people. Bad Luck Brian and Kermit-drinking-tea have more pull with the majority of Facebookers than the prospect of opening a news paper. That is the world we live in. Before Facebook, we could ignore loudmouths and walk away or change the channel. Now they live in our pockets on our smartphones. Thanks, Mark.