Should You Challenge Ignorance & Stigma on Social Media?

Should you challenge ignorance & stigma on social media? - image of a head with the words "we judge because we don't understand"

There are some good things about social media, but it also provides an opportunity for ignorance 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.

Ignorant by choice

What I wonder, though, is if challenging people who seem to be willfully ignorant actually gives them more attention than they deserve. Perhaps it only reinforces the posting of ignorant messages; maybe 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. That just happens to mean that their social media stats have also gone through the roof.

I’ve written before about the use of stigmatized language, but what about when the problem is the content, not the words? Anti-medication views are what I’ve probably come across the most often on Twitter. Often, there’s a strong response from mental health advocates condemning this kind of ignorance. Still, I’m not convinced that’s always the most effective way to handle it.

Selectively responding

Yes, we need to challenge ignorance and stigma. When this is coming from organizations, the media, 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 concerning 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 natural to me.

Choosing not to amplify ignorance

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 a social community that elevates the dumbasses to a place where their stupidity has massive reach.

Things were so much simpler back in the early days of the internet age. Not all of the progress that we’ve made since then has been good. Sigh…

You may also be interested in the post What Makes Someone a Mental Health Advocate?

Book cover: A Brief History of Stigma by Ashley L. Peterson

My latest book, A Brief History of Stigma, looks at the nature of stigma, the contexts in which it occurs, and how to challenge it most effectively.

You can find it on Amazon and Google Play.

There’s more on stigma on Mental Health @ Home’s Stop the Stigma page.

31 thoughts on “Should You Challenge Ignorance & Stigma on Social Media?”

  1. 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. 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).

    1. 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. 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 can ignore them sometimes..other times you do need to set the record straight. Sorry for my rant.

      1. I tried. Sorry for my ramble. I forgot about that until I started typing. I didn’t want him spreading things that were not true. People trusted him. Great article by the way.

  4. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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!

  10. 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.

  11. 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!

  12. 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.

    1. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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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