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 change 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…
You can find more about mental illness stigma on the Stop Stigma page.