I had an interesting experience yesterday that made me think about how truly toxic social media is. I am a low to medium use Twitter consumer. Meaning, I follow a bunch of people and scroll through the feed reading the various things posted. Mostly I’m looking for memes that make me laugh, the occasional inspirational post, and then lots of stupid shit politicians do that make me angry. I use it to keep up with the breaking news of the day since we no longer have actual news stations. That’s it.
I have six Twitter followers (probably all bots). I’ve posted maybe three or four original thoughts on Twitter in the last few years. I “like” someones Tweet maybe once every several months or so. I think I’ve commented on a post maybe twice. I think it’s fair to say that I have zero Twitter presence. I am an invisible gnat in the Twitter world.
So yesterday I’m scrolling through all the nonsense and saw a post from Dr Eric Topol. He’s a smart guy. He’s clearly one of the leading advocates for vaccines. His entire feed is nothing but post after post (sometimes dozens a day) of charts, graphs, and papers advocating for the effectiveness of the Covid vaccine. It’s an understatement to say he’s a fan of the jab. Anyway, yesterday he posted some chart showing that the original vaccine efficacy is clearing waning, but, he declared “Protection is fully restored (or even exceeded) by 3rd (booster) shots.” I have no idea why I felt the need to say something, but I posted a snarky comment to that tweet:
“Ok, ok, ok, ok… this time we’re absolutely positive this one will last a long time. Well, maybe just one more but that’s it. Pinky promise!”
Now, of the handful of comments I’ve ever posted to any Twitter feed, not one has ever been noticed, commented on, or probably even read. I’m not sure what the point of commenting is, especially on the bigger accounts with literally thousands of comments. The author is never going to actually read what you wrote. It’s shouting into the wind. Pointless, but I guess I felt better that I’d posted my incredibly smart and witty reply (that’s sarcasm, just in case you weren’t clear).
Almost instantly someone replied to my comment: “wow troutdog the 6 follower d-bag shitposter has so many thoughts about vaccines! tell us more oh esteemed man of science!”
D-bag shitposter? It continued with a bunch of people flaming with all kinds of charts and comments that this is how all vaccines work, I’ll trust scientists not you, bla bla bla. It was like a strange fanboy club that was just coiled and ready to strike back at anyone that dared disparage the official party line. I will admit that for about thirty seconds my blood boiled and I was ready to wade in an do battle with these folks.
And then I realized two things. First, Twitter is mostly a toxic dumpster fire mostly made up of keyboard warriors ready to savage anyone who questions their dogma. Never in the history of mankind has anyone ever had their mind changed by a comment on Twitter. There is zero point in reading or participating in any comment war on Twitter. Read someone’s original post, think to yourself I agree or disagree, and move on. That’s it. Anything else is a waste of brain cells. Lesson learned.
Second, it made me a little frightened for where we are as a society. I could feel how easy it was to be enraged and want to refute everything being thrown my way. The level of vitriol is crazy. How are people so angry that they feel the need to call folks names just because they disagree with a comment? The worrisome thing is that I think a larger and larger percentage of society gets their entire worldview from social media like this.
Just yesterday a member of the US House of Representatives was censured and lost all committee assignments over a tweet his staff posted on his account. I watched the video that was posted. It was some weird Asian anime thing that I didn’t entirely get. Somehow this was interpreted that he was advocating killing other politicians. Social media has truly become the public square for debate and discourse.
I’m not sure where I’m going with this. The impact of social media is so vast today. It’s the news medium of choice. In a world where the traditional media are official spokespeople for political parties, it’s the only place where you can hear independent thoughts if you search hard enough. Generally it’s a vapid waste of time, yet if you completely ignore it you’ll have little real grasp on what’s happening in the world. But tread lightly young grasshopper (anyone else old enough to get that reference?), one poorly thought out post or comment can cost you your job, friends, or land you on a police or government watch list.
It’s so powerful the tech titans spend 24×7 using it to actively curate, censor, and generally shape and change public opinion to fit their needs. When Parlor attempted to create an alternative voice, the tech world stepped in and squashed them like a bug. Facebook’s Zuckerburg spent nearly a half a billion dollars (that we know of) to sway the election. I don’t think people grasp how powerful and far reaching these tech empires have grown.
I think about the level of anger sitting out there in the ether over one silly comment I made. Remembering the violence that erupted all summer long in this country… it’s not hard to image the tech world actively curating an environment of mob rule. And the mob will be turned lose on anything that impacts the liberal/progressive agenda. Already the police are afraid to do their jobs. Politicians and government officials are petrified to do anything to stop crime, homelessness, or an invasion on our border. The real media, social media, will drive the narrative on any event that happens.
If any prominent person, politician, or government official criticizes anything that goes against the tech titans narrative – an avalanche of negative press will rain down upon them. Social media will instantly be flooded with the rallying cry of racism, white supremacism, sexism, xenophobia, hate, fascist, and of course… Nazi. All seemingly designed to stir up the angry keyboard warrior class. Few are willing to fight it. Most will cower and comply so as not be be cancelled. The smarter ones simply choose to withdraw and stop engaging, effectively conceding the public square to those shouting the loudest.
If we don’t find a way to achieve some sort of equilibrium in the new public square, I see a future we won’t recognize and outcomes we really don’t want. Mob rule is ugly.
All of that from one snarky comment on Twitter. My brain works in strange ways. I probably need more coffee.