Should ignorance be ignored or challenged?

ignorance one-way street sign

geralt on Pixabay

There are certainly some good things about social media, but it also provides an opportunity for stupidity to get much greater exposure than it deserves.

Some people would likely have a platform to reach large numbers of people even if it weren’t for social media.  But the average science-naïve person who thinks that snow in one area means that climate is nonexistent can only spread that opinion to large numbers of people because of the existence of social media.  Twenty years ago they would have had no such opportunity.

What I wonder, though, is if challenging people who seem to be willfully ignorant actually gives them more attention than they deserve.  Perhaps it reinforces the posting of ignorant messages, and the best thing to do would be to let their posts fade away into obscurity.

Lately on Twitter I’ve seen some misogynistic tweets written by males with head firmly up arse.  There was a very strong response from both females and males calling out the dumbasses who wrote the original tweets.  In the meantime, though, these guys have had a ton of exposure, and their social media stats have gone through the roof.

I’ve written before about the use of stigmatized language in social media and other contexts, but what about when the problem is less about the word choices than the content?  Anti-medication views are what I’ve probably come across the most often on Twitter.  Often there is a strong response from mental health advocates condemning this kind of ignorance, but I’m not fully convinced that’s the best way to handle it.

Yes, we need to challenge ignorance and stigma.  When this is coming from organizations or public figures, we absolutely need to call them out on it.  But if we’re boosting Jo(e) Dumbass’s social media stats by attacking their dumbass comments is that helpful, or are we just sending them the message that dumbass comments are an effective way to garner attention?  It’s also a problem that the more prominent the whole thing is, the more people end up getting upset by it.

In the case of misogynistic comments, I tend to swing more strongly in the direction of radio silence.  When it comes to anti-medication or other mental health-directed comments, there are voices in my head chiming in for both sides.  Perhaps part of the issue is that I’m not a big social media user, so none of this feels very natural to me.

It feels a bit icky that people like Youtuber Logan Paul, who posted a beyond tasteless video of an apparent suicide victim in Japan’s “suicide forest”, have managed to gain such notoriety online.  Why do millions of people follow this jackass?  Perhaps that’s where the biggest problem is, though.  Ignorance and stupidity draw attention, and they sell.  This isn’t a problem of a few random dumbasses, but rather of a social community that elevates these dumbasses to a place where their stupidity has massive reach.

Things were so much simpler back in the 90s when there were internet chat rooms and dial-up connections (click here and Youtube will let you know what that sounded like).  Not all of the progress that we’ve made since then has been good.  Sigh…

 

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32 thoughts on “Should ignorance be ignored or challenged?

  1. visionarytrailblazin says:

    Everything you said is true. Those same dumbasses ignite a fire in those of us who know about and have experience marginalization or been stigmatized to speak out for those who can’t. Let’s give them a run for their money.

  2. Luftmentsch says:

    From my experience arguing with antisemites, I don’t think you can usually change people who post stupid stuff with reasoned arguments, but you can sometimes save people who would otherwise be influenced by it by giving counterarguments. It’s difficult to find a rule for all cases. These days I largely avoid such things because I’m conflict averse and seeing internet arguments is triggering even if I’m not directly being attacked (e.g. anti-vax campaigners).

    • ashleyleia says:

      Yes I tend to stay out of online arguments too. And I agree, if people are ignorant due to lack of information that’s different from willful ignorance, but there’s not always an obvious distinction.

  3. kbr0632 says:

    So true. And I am one that would get hooked and try to defend myself (against the person giving the wrong information), however, that only adds to the attention of the poster. Staying away from that. So many people have opinions and they think they are right about so much….man, I wish I had their self confidence. But…no need for us to be a part of the conversation any longer than giving the truth if need be..and moving on. I work with someone who said that people with OCD eat people. There was a big thing a few years ago with people taking bath salts and then they would eat people basically. That’s what the common demoninator was in everything. Bath salts..eating people. Anyway…a professor was going around my office saying that’s what people with OCD do. I had to stand up and say that it was not true. I was heated..but I kept my cool. I then sent him a private message and told him that this was not true. I told him I had OCD. I also alerted him of other people that he could get better information from. He apologized. He is someone that has been on the news..people listen to him. I told him that people look up to him and he needs to make sure he has t he facts basically. Ignorant people..you can ignore them sometimes..other times you do need to set the record straight. Sorry for my rant.

  4. Invisibly Me says:

    This is a really difficult one. I think it varies so much in terms of what the topic is, the actual comment made, whether the benefit outweighs the potential outcome… that said, I do often feel like things should be challenged, otherwise ignorance continues with that person(s) thinking it’s okay. But, as you say, other comments are best left ignored because that person wants a response, and we shouldn’t give such idiotic people what they want in that respect. x

  5. Hannah Celeste says:

    Just…YES to everything you wrote here! I find myself torn between the two approaches quite frequently when I see people that I know posting things things that are completely unscientific and problematic (i.e. climate change isn’t real, antidepressants make people homicidal, etc). It’s such a thin line between wanting to have an educational conversation and not even wanting to engage with that type of thinking at all.

  6. marandarussell says:

    I’ve never come away from a social media argument with someone who is hateful or ignorant feeling like I accomplished much. Normally, it just makes me feel worse, angry, and more depressed that there are people like that in the world who won’t see reason.

  7. Michelle says:

    I agree that people pay more attention to stupidity. I think Logan Paul admitted to doing stupid things because it gives him attention.

    I stay away from rude people online who try to cause arguments because you can’t win one online

  8. BeckiesMentalMess.wordpress.com says:

    Ashley, you hit this topic head on, and I couldn’t be more pleased to have read this.
    This is one of the main reasons I can’t stand social media.
    I have the ditz of a so-called friend of mine who sits on social media ranting and raving daily over stupidity. We had been friends for close to four years up until I saw her challenge a woman who commented on her page in regards to a mental health issue. (This was many months ago, I don’t recall the topic), However, she got on her high horse and claimed “She” was a mental health professional and the woman obviously forgot to take her meds.
    I was floored when I read it. I was more than floored, I was outraged and disgusted. Weeks went by, and she called me. I asked her when she received her masters in psychology? There was a long pause, then I questioned her… When and where did she become a mental health professional? No answer again.
    Before I terminated the call, I matter of factly said… “Damn, I could have sworn you were seeing the same therapist like me and was still going to group therapy. I then terminated the call before she could answer.
    You know, I understand “Free Speech” is a huge thing on social media, but dumbasses should shut the front door when it comes to serious topics of discussion.
    Awesome post! Ashley!!!!

  9. Meg says:

    You are so totally onto something. It disgusts me that with human nature, more people are likely to be attracted to base, vulgar, offensive things (including harmful, incorrect information and/or opinions) than things that uplift or inspire. I’ve started to wonder if most people are cretins who are attracted to the lowest common denominator. It’s so upsetting! I haven’t checked out that suicide forest (?!?!) page, but I bet it would qualify.

    You raise a very interesting point about whether to argue back or ignore. I’m shaking my head thinking about it right now, because I’m not coming up with a ready answer. Hmm….. with me, I’ll always jump in if I think someone’s being bullied or ganged up on. With general ignorance, I try to block/ignore, because it can get me really riled up. But indeed, I’m not sure what the “right” choice is for all of us, or what we should do. It’s awful complicated, isn’t it?

    Very thought provoking!!

  10. visionarytrailblazin says:

    I wanted to make sure I clarified my response. When I say “give them a run for their money, ” I mean we continue to support knowledge, understanding, and collaboration. We may not overshadow the stupidity, and I prefer to bow out of senseless arguments, but we can support, share our stories, and add to a better storyline. Ashley you rock!

  11. Brendan Birth says:

    Hmmm. My desire is often to confront, but that’s not always the best strategy.

    Though sometimes I just don’t have the mental energy to confront, and then the decision is made for me.

  12. Megan says:

    I am someone who doesn’t like confrontation so often times I don’t respond because I don’t want to start a conflict. I try my best not to see stupid posts from ridiculous people.

    I just heard a dial up tone at work somehow and it was awesome!

  13. Jean Matheson says:

    This can be such a tough one. There are times I just don’t have the energy for confrontation, especially when it’s a person who is so entrenched in their beliefs that it’s next to impossible to change their point of view. And yet there are other times that I can’t not say something, when someone is so incredibly ignorant and entitled in their statements or behaviour that I just have to challenge them. (Or when it involves my kids … that’s an immediate grounds for reaction.)
    I’m not perfect, and I know there are times I’ve made the wrong choice, but as others have said, if I can sway someone who is malleable, then all the better.

    • ashleyleia says:

      I think that’s a great point about it depending on who’s involved. I would also immediately react if the target was someone close to me.

  14. motherhen76 says:

    I often struggle with this question. There are times when I want to challenge ignorance (especially pertaining to subjects that I am passionate about). However, I don’t know if it does any good. In the end the person on the other end won’t change their views nor will they see things from your perspective. I believe in freedom of speech, however some take that too far.

  15. thelevinelowdown says:

    Thank you very much for this post, I found it very interesting and it definitely challenged my views. I just posted an article on my blog titled ‘Why I love social media’ which I would be really interested to hear your thoughts on 🙂

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