We all bemoan the outrage cycle of social media. It’s become a constant drone in the background of our daily lives. Every day we’re mad about something. Conservatives and liberals take their turns, atheists and Christians, and people of every other belief and demographic.
What can we do about it? I think we can start by being a lot more selective about the fights we take up.
Just last week, a Twitter user shared a video of Maya Angelou correcting a young person for addressing her simply as “Maya.” In response, a few people tweeted about how disrespectful Angelou had been. Once those tweets got found, the floodgates opened. Countless people jumped on Twitter to off
But that’s not how the story got reported. Most people think it went down like Yashar Ali described:
Please know that Maya Angelou is trending nationally because there are some young folks who are offended that she directed a young woman to call her Ms. Angelou instead of Maya in a 20-year-old clip. We are doomed.
The problem is, that just isn’t true. She wasn’t trending nationally because people were offended that she demanded respect. She was trending nationally because people were offended that a tiny group of people were offended that she demanded respect.
With characterizations like Ali’s (and his “We are doomed” commentary), one would be led to believe that this is a widespread issue. It feeds into the outrage culture, the divisiveness, and the fearmongering by adding yet another thing that people think divides them from their fellow humans. “Can you believe this???” “People are so awful these days!” “I’m on team ______”
And we fall for it over and over and over.
A preemptive version of it even happened with the recent mosque shooting, with dozens of prominent Christian accounts tweeting and Facebook posting to make the point that Christians shouldn’t rejoice but rather mourn for the fallen muslim people, leaving the implication that there are countless vocal Christians who need to be told not to celebrate.
Remember the Starbucks Christmas cups fiasco of 2015? One or two loud “Christian voices” expressed outrage that Starbucks had released cups without the words “Merry Christmas” on them. Outsiders still derisively refer to the over-sensitivity of Christians by claiming that we got offended by Starbucks cups… and nobody would’ve ever known about it if we didn’t feel the need to respond.
The same thing happened with the supposed boycott of Star Wars: The Force Awakens because it included a black character, a boycott so large that it held the release to a paltry $2 billion gross.
And the same thing happened with the Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez “dancing scandal.” I never saw a single tweet, FB post, or article criticizing her (though I’m sure there were a few), yet the occurrence will now enter the internet lexicon as an example for the conservative right’s “snowflake-ishness.”
The opposing viewpoints people are posting in these cases are often true and right and good… and totally unnecessary. Almost every time something like this goes viral and becomes a trending topic, it trends because all of the people criticizing it, not because of the people promoting it. 500 people making it an issue can’t make something a worldwide trending topic… but a million people snapping back at them can. These social media virtue signaling campaigns take small, fringe groups that don’t deserve any kind of platform and give them headline status.
So, you want to quell the outrage machine that is social media? Don’t join in the outrage mob.
Unplug the outrage culture. Take a few minutes to research and see if there are actually any advocates for the thing you’re wanting to speak out against. Don’t help make problems bigger, more outrageous, and more scandalous than they really are. Let ignorant, obnoxious people on the fringes of society be ignorant, obnoxious people on the fringes of society. Don’t feed the trolls.