Monday, March 25, 2013

On the Ill-Advised 'Social' in Social Media: Comments

I don't read Internet comments most of the time, but sometimes I can't help it: a word or phrase catches my eye ("Nazi whore") — and I can't help but screech to a stop.

Bad idea.

Sometimes — often — too often — with alarming regularity, people "show others the error of their ways" via "general population" comments on media stories on the Web or social media posts. Please, please resist the urge: no one on the Internet wants to be educated by your comment. Not once have I known anyone to "see the light" because of an inflammatory comment left by friend or foe, acquaintance or stranger.

Usually, when I see such a statement or argument, I just move along and think, "Moron." (Sorry, it's true: such attempts at education often backfire. They just prove what I have suspected all along: I'm smarter than "you," person with your too-personal-to-be-relevant-to-me moniker and edgy avatar.) (Oh, c'mon: like you haven't thought the exact same thing.)

And yet...  every once in a while, I get sucked in with a pithy (or even verbose) inflammatory comment. Just last week, "Victoria" hijacked a conversation by a self-defined feminist group with the phrase mentioned above. Suddenly, Coco Chanel's quote wasn't about women's empowerment or feminism, but Victoria's hatred of Hitler and stupid Chanel for falling for his claptrap in the 1930s.

Now, Hitler falls into the category of "all evil, all the time." He might have encouraged the development of the Volkswagen Beetle, but he single-handedly — well, read the history books. So, no, I won't "like" a quote by Hitler on Facebook.

But Coco Chanel? Henry Ford? Margaret Sanger? If they supported Hitler back in the day, are they pure evil, too? And what about —

Wait! My blog has been hijacked by Hitler! And Victoria!

No, I hijacked this conversation myself. I injected Hitler and Victoria into my blog. I am the architect of my own derailment.

General comments on the Web often devolve into diatribes peppered with arguments that are summarily dismissed or trounced by the "louder" keyboard. Distracting? More often than not. Inflammatory? Guaranteed. Clever, witty and fair? Rarely — although if they are, they're buried in the miasma of poorly-written knee-jerk reactions.

No matter how much we pretend, social media are not discourse. They are platforms on which we reaffirm our ideas and philosophies — and become angry and frustrated when people post opposing materials. Remember the civil exchange of ideas during the 2012 U.S. election? Yeah, me neither. We abandoned our "friends" in droves, hiding updates in news feeds, un-friending, un-following and un-liking in record numbers. Take a look at your follow or friend list on Facebook and Twitter: anything there with which you don't agree? Yeah, me neither.

The same goes for news articles: rarely does it take more than a few comments before the "conversation" spins off-topic to a subject of the hijacker's concern. Choose a flashpoint: current U.S. President, political party, Hitler... 

We use Facebook to share the perfect someecards. Twitter serves of our pithy, brilliant thoughts. ("People may laugh at me because I am different, but I laugh at them because they all are the same.") Metallica fans don't usually share Barry Manilow YouTube videos in the spirit of appreciation. Vegetarians: how about those pork barbecue recipes? The same with blogs — you would not have read this far had you not found yourself nodding in agreement with something in it. Social media is not the tools with which we seek opposing viewpoints.

Pinterest has it right: post/share/tweet/pin the stuff that you like and leave the rest to someone else.

I release Victoria and Hitler — and, while I'm at it, Coco. I'll spend my time pining a Despicable Me 2 trailer (or two, including the one with the cat because I think that's the Law of the Internet). Thanks for reading (and nodding). And if you disagree, just move along.

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