Social Media, Tweets, and Comments Threads-I Guess There’s Just a Meanness in This World
I guess there’s just a meanness in this world.
A meanness in this world, as Bruce Springsteen sang, at the end of his story song “Nebraska”, from the perspective of serial killer Charlie Starkweather. Springsteen’s Starkweather offers no sorrow, no apologies, for what he’s done. The world is mean, and maybe he’s implying that meanness made him what he is, and the electric chair looms after, but at least he had some fun along the way.
Those of us on any social media know very well that there is a meanness in this world. Take a look at any Facebook thread on any politician, celebrity, or on any issue that is even remotely controversial. Look at any tweet by any political figure, and see what kind of responses they get. Go to any newspaper that still allows comments. Find any article, about any social issue, about Islam, about Obama, about Trump, about Trudeau- the thread below will be inundated with virulent stranger-on-stranger hatred, argumentation, vitriol, ridicule, mockery. Anger on the Internet is unlimited. The deepest demons of our nature are seemingly released, therapeutically, through our fingers, into our keyboards.
We don’t even know why we’re angry. We just are. We express that anger in ways we never would face to face, in person, seeing the essential humanity of the other in front of us. We turn words into weapons and set out to wound, to maim, to conquer and win.
Perhaps we are too disconnected, real identities and faces hidden behind devices and tablets and computers. Maybe the world was always this mean, and now it just has thousands of ready forums for meanness to be expressed “safely” and anonymously.
I have this thing I do: I look at tweets from our Prime Minister, and count the number of responses until the nastiness starts. It’s often the first response beneath the initial tweet. The very first tweet in response. It’s never more than the second or third. Try it with one of your own politicians. What do you see?
I debated putting some examples in, from Twitter, Facebook, and newspapers, but why spread the hate? I only worry that you are reading this, and you don’t know what I mean. Yes, I do mean the most loathsome and hateful things you can imagine. Some lines were crossed long ago- there are “gas chamber memes” now. Nothing is forbidden, nothing sacred- all is torched by the flames of righteous Internet anger.
You can try the same thing with newspaper comment threads. Are positive comments outweighed 2:1 by negative ones? 3:1? 4:1? You can see why many newspapers have closed their online commenting. Imagine the psychological toll of being a moderator sifting through endless bytes of hate.
I debated including some examples from an article about a famous teen discovering gender. You know how the comments went. You know. Gender makes people very angry. You could write the comments thread if you needed to.
I debated including one from an article about Islam, but you know how that goes. You KNOW. You could write the comments thread if you needed to.
I debated including one from an article about (insert politician’s name here), but you know how that goes. YOU KNOW! Politicians make people very angry. You could write that comment thread a million times.
Immigration? YOU KNOW! LGBTQ issues? Yeah, you know. Gun rights? You know! Christmas? Yep. Article about Political Party X in a newspaper that supports Party Y? Yeah, you know what that looks like.
As Jenn says, we don’t have to accept that there’s a meanness in this world. We can keep our own discourse moderate, temperate, and thoughtful. We can reserve judgement about things we don’t know about, and assume the best intentions of others.
They say, “don’t read the comments”, but me, I always do. I want to understand where the pure torrent of rage is coming from, and, to borrow from Hamlet, by opposing, end it. There is rage, and there is anger, but there is kindness too. There’s a kindness in the world, too. Such kindness. You know that’s true as well. At least, you should, if you don’t spend too much time on the Internet.