6 min read

The State of Social Media

The State of Social Media
Photo by Jeremy Bezanger / Unsplash

Unless you have been living under a rock for the last week (or maybe a decade really), the current state of discourse across social media is, for lack of a better term, a complete and utter shit show.

I am not going to discuss the merits or issues with one side of the debate or the other (you know what I'm referring to). Instead we're going to focus on the issue-agnostic general things that I think are both a problem and what you can do about it.

Sensationalized Headlines and Lack of Nuance

This might be the biggest offender - news outlets across the spectrum phrase things to cause outrage knowing people will not read or try to find any context related to the situation or what has happened. Unless you are willing to put in the effort to understand it, nobody is immune to it. Sometimes the headline is an outright lie, other times a half truth and they reverse course mid article. But they are banking on you not reading that far, clicking share and driving ad revenue so they don't care.

Spending Emotional Capital On Things We Can't Change

It's well documented that excessive social media use (especially among teens) is a cause of depression and anxiety. People share their highlights and we compare our regular boring day. Influencers make everything look picture perfect to show off their magnificent life and you wonder where you went wrong.

When it comes to political things, we get mad about what is happening somehwere, make an angry post about it, but then don't actually take action. 50 years ago, we would never even hear about the event at all. The result is that we take the emotional baggage upon ourselves, but when we have zero ability to impact or change it, we have only made it worse for ourselves.

The trick is - most of the time we can do something. If an article about homelessness in New York makes you upset - you can donate to a shelter there. Or even better you can go out in your own backyard and find that same problem at a much smaller scale and make a real difference. Societal issues are generally present everywhere at varying levels - there isn't a utopia on Earth. The further removed we are from an issue, we take the same emotional downturn but are disconnected from the ability to serve and refill that bucket. If something upsets you - you need to find a way to help remedy the angering thing.

No Real Thought of a Plan

Piggy backing off of the last two - people get upset about something. They post about it. Then when pushed for a solution, they don't have one. This is extremely frustrating. Check yourself - if you haven't thought through what your proposed alternative is, then you haven't put enough thought into the matter to make a public post about it.

Don't Attack and Don't Engage in Defense

It's just a waste of time. You're not going to change anybody's mind. If you see somebody post and you want to engage rather than saying "Okay what's your plan?" which comes off as dimissive and attacking, offer something like :

"I've thought about this topic a lot, and my views on it have changed over the years. I think a good solution would by X, Y and Z. I'd love to hear your thoughts on something like that."

That flips it away from calling them out and instead puts forth something concrete to discuss and shows that you have put thought and effort into having a real conversation. Yes, it would be ideal if OP had included that in their original post, but they didn't. So either put in the effort yourself (given that we've already established that unless we have a proposal, we shouldn't waste time posting), or just roll your eyes and move on.

There's No Bravery or Education in an Echo Chamber

"If you disagree with this, unfriend me."

I've seen it and so have you. It's a problem. If you never discuss disagreements and differing opinions, you will never learn or have your views impacted. Creating an echo chamber also not only stunts your own growth, you also cut off any ability to evangelize your position to others. So good job - you are mad that people disagree with you and now you've preventing them from ever possibly having their mind changed.

Once you have effectively created your echo chamber, now you get to post all the things you think and feel - and the response is awesome because you've curated an audience that will applaud everything you say and agree with you. It doesn't count as "making a statement" or "taking a stand" when you're not going against the grain. You may be going against the popular belief of society at large, but if a tree falls in the woods does it make a sound?

Quips, Memes and Gotchas

First of all, I love memes. Especially political ones. But they are entertainment and should make you laugh.

If you think a great political point can be made in 240 characters or less or some gotcha crammed into a single picture, you aren't giving it much thought. There's been a huge rise lately of non-sequitur comparisons and analogies that completely miss the mark. Without actually discussing the issue with somebody to understand their nuanced beliefs, you cannot make a complex analogy that will appeal to them because the situations will likely be interpreted as fundamentally different.

So while you think you came up with some golden bullet statement that will surely show them, you really make yourself look like a fool that hasn't come up with much of an intelligent discussion. But you got likes and RTs so I guess that's all that matters in 2022.

Ditch the Straw and Find Some Steel

A common logical fallacy is the "straw man" - where an argument (usually and extreme) is put forth against something very tangential to what was actually said. (Note: all your memes and gotchas trying to prove a point fall into this.)

Here's an example:

"I would rather have a dog than a cat"
"So you're saying you hate cats?"

Well, for one, in my case, yes I hate cats. But If I hated them and that was me in the conversation I would've said that. Here the person made a benign statement about preference and it was taken in bad faith and run to the extreme and now not at all close to what was originally stated.

Ditch the straw man and go for the steel man: Do everything you can to make the other person's position stronger. They may have flaws they had not considered, they'll work through those. More importantly, you will fully understand not just their position, but their why. Once you've both done that you can actually have a conversation and see that (hopefully) this wasn't just something brought out of thin air - there's a real life experience attached to the belief and things that you had not considered about the other side and same for them.

By articulating everything, we can establish all the places we agree and put that by the wayside. We reiterate their position in a way that demonstrates we listened in good faith and sought first to understand. Everybody wins.

Give The Benefit of the Doubt

Lastly - just be nice to each other. We're all on the same team trying to live life. Our goals are the same: make society better. The disagreement comes from the how, not the what. Let people state why they feel a certain way. Until they say they're out to get you, don't be a jerk and assume that.

I'll close with a political example (even though I said I wouldn't touch politics, sorry).

Some people strongly favor voter ID laws. Other people are against them. Those that are for them want to make sure that nobody cheats and votes multiple times becuase they assume that's why people would oppose them. Those against them feel that they push people away from voting and people who want them are trying to prevent certain demographics from voting.

Neither side cares to discuss the reasoning of the other. They may be able to recite the talking points but say "but it doesn't matter becuase X" - since, as it turns out, feelings our subjective and what is more important to one may be less important to the other.

But if we take a step back both sides want the same thing: a clean and fair election.

One side is worried about additional votes being cast that could make the result not reflective of the people. The other is worried that added unneccessary barriers to entry will remove votes that could make the result not reflective of the people.

Where nuance comes into play: what is the net and which is the bigger problem? And can we find a balance to mostly satisfy both sides?

Thomas Sowell was right when he said "There's not solutions, only trade-offs" - and until we can come together to understand the otherside and verbalize what trade offs we are willing to make, nothing will change.