In the wake of the Zimmerman trial, I have seen articles from respected news forums about teens being slaughtered for having a Free Zimmerman bumper sticker on their car and a Hispanic man being beaten “for Trayvon.” These reports have been further investigated and have been exposed as false. But I saw the article on Facebook. One of my college educated friends shared it. It must be true, right? The sky is falling and many are blaming mainstream media sensationalism.
Can you blame them? I like to get my news from E!, personally, but you can’t walk into a coffee shop or waiting room without pretty, polished talking heads discussing the latest trial. They have countdown tickers at the bottom of the screen with the hours until the verdict is anticipated. They have forums to argue what the defendant should have worn to court. They profile the attorneys. They analyze juror reactions. They interview neighbors, old girlfriends, cousins-once-removed and fifth-grade teachers. And none of this stops when the verdict is reached.
I argue that it is not the mainstream media that perpetuates a legacy of stupidity, but it is social media that creates a frenzy of ignorance. Let us first agree that people who take the law into their own hands and perpetuate violence in the name of justice are ignorant people. Sure, they may be passionate. They may even be dynamic. But the bottom line is; they are ignorant. I’m willing to bet that the vast majority of these ignorant folks didn’t spend the bulk of their week watching continual trial coverage on HLN. Instead they saw a “news article” that one of their buddies shared on Facebook or a retweet of their favorite reality star’s “official” Twitter account.
It is so easy for us to hit Like or Retweet or Share anything and everything. With the slightest touch of a finger, we perpetuate false information. We copy and paste quotes from articles via The Onion like they came from CNN. And even more scary is that this same internet is being used by college interns to sort the facts from the fiction before head writers and producers plant the information in front of the anchor or into the field reporter’s ear.
Please don’t get me wrong. I’m a huge fan of social media. My addiction to Twitter, Facebook and now Snap Chat is only rivaled by my dependence on diet sodas mid-morning and white wine at bedtime. The thing is, I earned a college degree back in the stone ages when you had to actually go to a library and open a book. There was no internet. If you googled someone back then, you’d probably get slapped in the face. But even then, a cursory glance around the fraternity social would make it painfully obvious that the world is peopled with idiots. The only difference was, if we wanted to create mass hysteria, we had to get out a phone book and call all of our friends individually and hope to God we didn’t get a busy signal. It took days to plan what we would do on a Friday night and where the hell we’d meet. Heaven forbid you get the time wrong. You’d never figure out where everybody was!
Now don’t get all riled up and think I’m being mean to the younger generations. As hard as I had it in college, at least I didn’t have to walk to school in the snow, up hill both ways like my parents did. I could go on and on about how today’s college kids are more active and proactive in the direction of their own lives, our country and our world; due in large part to social media. (For instance, did you know that young Libyans organized their revolt and eventual eradication of Gaddafi via Twitter? It’s true. Google it.) It’s not just my younger counterparts who are oozing virtual oafishness. Out of my 900+ Facebook friends, it’s hard to find more than a handful of thoughtful, intelligent posts on any given day, and this likelihood decreases exponentially during football season. Sometimes, it is the older generation that leads the charge toward mindlessness. It’s called Snopes, Grandma. And if you don’t know how to use Photoshop, then you probably shouldn’t share a bunch of really unbelievable pictures that you saw on Facebook.
If Betty Sue came to your house and told you that your mother had lost her leg in a freak price check incident at the Piggly Wiggly, you’d probably pick up the phone and call your mama to make sure she was okay. But if Betty Sure posted an article on FaceBook about mutant monkeys holding twelve hostage at a Wal-Mart in Tuscaloosa, fourteen people would share it coupled with their non-spell-checked commentary on the state of our world due to Obama (if you’re South of Atlanta) or Paula Deen (if you’re North of West Virginia). Is it really too much to ask that we think for 3.4 seconds before we click Like, Share or Retweet? Far be it from me to tell anyone how to live, but if you give more thought to what you want on your pizza than you do the articles, images and statements that you are exhibiting to the world as a representation of the person that you are; then you are doing it wrong.