We’re all veterans of social media battles fought over extreme predeterminations. However, now that we’ve witnessed the damage, is it time to put down our guns?
It was late October that Donald Trump stated: “I doubt I would be here if it weren’t for social media, to be honest with you.”
Social media incentivises you to say the most extreme thing possible, to show the most outrageous thing imaginable, because that’s how you get attention and drown out everyone else. Think of the number of comments you regularly see below any article, and how few appeared to actually read it. I would venture to say that most people emotionally react to the headline, and store that reaction, without necessarily reading it.
Memes are the children of social media, they are the dramatic oversimplifications of situations for comedic or sarcastic effect. The ammunition of the social media elections have become an ever more dramatic meme war. The problem is that these memes exclude the complexity of any problem or situation, and usually cause the people on the other side of it to become enraged at the excessive simplification. Both sides continually generate and send memes out, continuously hardening the sharp edge between the two parties. Social media does not favour moderation. It is a medium built for extreme sentiment.
No one is allowed to not pick a side, to consider both sides of any equation. Social media is the court of public opinion and it never closes. It blasts it’s judgements 24 hours a day and 7 days a week.
The Liberals in the United States have turned all conservatives into uneducated and racist caricatures, whereas the Conservatives have likewise turned the liberals into soft ambiguously gendered whiners. There are no people anymore between the two camps, it has become a no man’s land. No one is allowed to accord political institutions and laws the complexity they require. You are a soldier for your ideologues. We’ve dug the trenches and well and truly bombarded any last people out of the no man’s land between us.
How do we reverse the trend of clickbait news and meme-ification of complexity?
Well, people crave simplicity, it’s extremely attractive. It makes an extremely complicated world logical and understandable, especially for people who have not had a wide range of experiences and education. Social media has brought the complex world into everyone’s personal space, and that makes it much harder to ignore. This means that it needs to be reconciled, and it’s much easier to reconcile something complex as “bad” than needing patience or thought.
It all started really with 9/11 and the wars in the Middle East. Most people in the West don’t know any Muslims; most have probably not even left their countries. Only 35% of Americans for instance even own passports, of which it’s likely many have only gotten one to go to Mexico or Canada.
These people hear about wars, horrific terrorist attacks and over a decade of violence and cruelty streams through their news services from about 2001 onward. They can’t be too harshly blamed for forming extremely strong opinions about Muslims with no opposing context whatsoever. But this is where the schism began. Luckily all we needed to do was keep fighting a war, which was far simpler than what it became.
When the Arab Spring occurred, it sparked a chain reaction that resulted in some civil wars which are still raging today, as not every despot was unseated. These wars have in turn created the refugee crisis, and as ISIS started instigating attacks in the west across Europe and North America, the sensationalist conservative pundits began to ride the wave of fear with endless streams of hyperbolic headlines – Adam Gabbatt explains in more detail here the issue with Breitbart.
Now we live in a world of fear and anger. Fascist Nationalism has grown immensely as the world feeds on the fear fed to them. Memes continue to be fired back and forth, no one is allowed to not pick a side. We won’t allow anyone to consider both sides of any equation, there is no time for patience, no time for consideration, everything must be done immediately and harshly as social media is the court of public opinion and it never closes. It blasts its judgements 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
I can only hope our love affair with the simplification of politics ends, and we adjust to complexity.
As Socrates said: “I am the wisest man alive, for I know one thing, and that is that I know nothing.”