This is a follow up to my article “The Lenticular Interaction That Broke the Internet” that I recently published that looked at an innocuous incident that happened recently at the Lincoln Memorial at the conclusion of the March for Life. Over the last 5 days, this non-event has divided the country to a degree that I have rarely seen.
Photo by David Cliff/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images
The story line was a confrontation between a group of High School Students and a Native American Elder. The reality was that there was no violence and no words exchanged but despite that, the Internet went insane. This reaction was driven by the perception that one of the students, 16-year-old boy, “sneered” at a 60 plus year old man that had walked up to him and began to beat a ceremonial drum in his face for more than two minutes.
The Social reaction was driven by a carefully edited 3-minute video that selectively focused on the facial expression of a teenager suddenly thrust into a very uncomfortable situation as well as a heart-rending interview with the Tribal Elder that bemoaned the mistreatment and bad acts of the student group. If you want more details on the actual incident, check out the aforementioned article.
The fallout from this incident was unbelievable. There were calls for physical violence (ranging from suggestions of punching a student in the face and groin, to a wish for him to be thrown into a wood chipper), death threats, calls for expulsion, a cry for the ouster of his school’s administration and the firing of the chaperones.
Ultimately an unedited version of the actual proceedings surfaced, and if it did not totally exonerate the students, it at least destroyed the narrative and caused massive retractions from most of the News Publications and Social Media paragons that had been too quick to jump on the bandwagon.
Fast forward four days. While many who took the time to research the incident recanted their initial reaction, not all News sources altered their bylines (CNN, MSNBC for example) and there were still Social Media warriors that continued to disparage the students and call for severe punishment.
What in the world could be driving this uncivil, unconscionable reaction? Have we truly become this hateful and mean spirited as a county? What has happened to public discourse? Never mind that, what the heck has happened to common sense? In my opinion, the root cause of this uncivilized behavior is the personality modifying effects of Social Media and the degree to which we depend on it for communication.
When we used to speak to one another face to face we had to comport ourselves with a degree of respect and accept a degree of give and take. This allowed for rich and passionate debates as well as the ability to read body language signals that could raise red flags if we ventured outside agreed upon boundaries.
With the acceptance of Social Media as our communication vehicle, many of the boundaries have been removed and speaking in assumed anonymity, people’s worst angels are allowed free reign. There is a likelihood of misinterpreting humor, sarcasm, innuendo, or subtle hints because there is no facial expression, hand gestures, or body language to supplement to verbiage. Like learning a new language, however, communicating through Social media is improving with practice and tools like emojis, gifs, and images.
I fear that poor communication is not the real danger of Social Media. Based on the speed with which this Country has lurched towards tribalism and incivility, my concern is the degree in which Social Media is now manipulating us.
Bad behavior is becoming normalized
Yesterday, I saw a video posted on Social Media, purportedly by an up and coming rapper, showing himself mercilessly berating two young boys. His rant was incredibly offensive, used racial epitaphs, threats of violence, and demeaning rhetoric. What was the offense committed by these two young boys (all of 12 years old)? They had gone out in public wearing Make America Great Again Hats.
I’ve seen similar videos in which total strangers attack unwitting kids for the same egregious act. I’ve seen cars vandalized for MAGA bumper stickers, houses damaged for having MAGA yard signs, and people beaten for the logoed clothes they are wearing. There is a term Conservatives use to describe this behavior called TDS – Trump Derangement Syndrome. It describes the willing suspension of acceptable behavior in order to attack the person or property of anyone that visibly supports the current President.
It would be easy to blame this on one sided media coverage in which negative reports exceed 90% of the programming on some networks. You could hold the President responsible for his habit of always responding to insults and slights with sarcasm and name calling. You could blame politicians in general for their need to be “edgy” and encouraging violence and uncivil behavior. I believe that these are simply symptoms of a greater illness.
We have, collectively, surrendered social norms in favor of Likes, Retweets, Followers, Friends, Thumbs Ups (or downs), and all the other Social Media serotonin inducing feedback agents. Google, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Snapchat, etc. deliver a high to us like a new type of incredibly addictive drug. We become conditioned to posting something to start the process and then wait anxiously for that positive response that communicates that we are accepted by our peers. We hover over discussion threads, looking for our opportunity to deliver that cutting remark that will redirect the conversation and put us in control of the topic. We callously heap derision on those we perceive as less so that we can be more.
Interacting through this anonymous medium allows us to appear bigger, stronger, faster, smarter, more attractive, more dominant, more compassionate, or just more than we are in real life. It has also allowed us to forego normal human interaction in which we learn to communicate by reading real responses from those with which we interact. Reading those social cues along with working in teams and groups has allowed us to build a highly efficient economic powerhouse of a Country, but we peaked. The actual interaction slowed the growth process and became a stumbling block.
Solution – Get the human out of the mix. Now we can communicate with lightning speed through email, Social Media, and video conferencing. Information can be delivered and consumed faster, decisions can be made faster, success (or failure) can happen faster. The only sacrifice has been our soul and our willingness to give up free thought for instant gratification.
We are being manipulated
I believe that we are under attack by forces intent on controlling us and they are using our addiction to Social Media to pull our strings. Before you write me off as a tin hat wearing conspiracy theorist, I would ask that you hear me out.
Bots are real
Have you noticed that when a socially divisive issue occurs, scores of “Pundits” quickly appear on Social Media with flame thrower posts? They pose as speakers for a group and act outraged. This results in a backlash by an opposing group and the battle is joined. The speed with which the debate escalates has increased recently and I believe that has a lot to do with the sophistication of automated response tools created by entities that have an agenda that they would like to push. Who might these entities be? Who benefits from the chaos?
The Boogeyman that probably jumps to mind most readily are Governments that are opposed to U.S. dominance in the world. Countries like Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea are the most recognized culprits; however our computerized infrastructure is equally attractive to lesser known hackers and manipulating enterprises. Attacks have come from India, Pakistan, Turkey, Taiwan, Brazil, Romania, Italy, and Hungary, just to name a few. Heck, we’ve even been spied on by England, Germany, and Israel. Virtually no foreign power is above trying to get a leg up if they find an opportunity.
Networks, newspapers, magazines, blogs, vlogs all benefit from clicks, viewing time, and replication/sharing of their content. This industry has decades of experience manipulating their audiences to wring every nanosecond of attention span from us while working on the next topic to keep us glued to their channel. To the degree they can control our emotions, how we define ourselves, what tribe we associate with, they can design programming to build loyalty and dependence.
Social Media Companies
Google, Twitter, Facebook, et al represents the “New Media.” They are staking out the screen real estate of our communication and work tools. They obviously have a vested interest in keeping us locked into their universe. They have invented feedback mechanisms that stroke our innermost id and addict us by tapping into our serotonin and dopamine receptors. They own massive amounts of data on us and use that data to target information in carefully controlled models. They respond to us with a speed that makes it look like they are reading our minds because their predictive tools are that accurate.
The Political Machine
It should go without saying that this group has mastered the process of manipulating the Citizens of this Country. The two-party system has homogenized politics to a point where there’s no longer a great chasm between platforms, despite the rhetoric. The #1 goal of most Politicians is to stay in power. Without huge divides in actual policy the machine must create passion over minor differences and get their constituents “fired up” so they show up on Election Day. It benefits those in power tremendously to promote beliefs that separate us rather than those that bond us together.
The Financial Market
Think for a minute how the Big Investors manipulate the market. I’ve been guilty of selling my stock when there is a run of bad news with no end in sight. This allows the Big Funds to scoop up bargains that they profit from when the news improves. In addition, they use analytics and search engines that watch societal trends to help them anticipate buy and sell cycles from which they benefit.
The Super Rich
Aligned with the Financial Market are those individuals and families that control wealth that is unimaginable to most of us. Titans like Soros, Rothschild, Koch, Rockefeller, Kennedy, Gates, Mars, Bezo, etc. control vast empires. The top 10 families represent more than $1T in worth. How much Social Engineering do they participate in to try to create the World of their dreams?
There are entities that dominate specific control areas within the Country like “The Deep State” which is just a scary way of saying Government Bureaucracy. The Public Sector controls us through policy, laws, regulations, and infrastructure. Hollywood, which is not a faction as much as a tool, can be used as a production mechanism for social engineering messaging. Unions which take in vast quantities of money through member dues that they use to guide and direct Government policy. There are numerous others, but you probably get the drift by now.
Black Lives Matter, Antifa, The Socialist Party, Tea Party, March for Life, The Women’s March, LGBTQ, NARAL, PETA, Climate Change, Occupy, Civil Rights, Militia, NRA, etc. All of these groups want your attention and have a specific agenda. The larger the following they can build the more likely they can control the agenda
Who is in Control?
The point I’m trying to make here is that we are all inundated by entities that vie for our attention and have a vested interest in manipulating our emotions. Here is the dirty truth, though. Just like the vampires in the horror movies we grew up with, they have to be invited in.
Each of us is responsible for who we choose to follow, the channels we choose to watch, the publications or posts we choose to read, the groups we associate with, and the way we choose to respond.
Here’s my recommendation:
Be Better. Before you react to some story, post, or perceived slight or insult, look at what you’re about to post. Does it truly represent the person you are, or is it a response the influencer is trying to create? Don’t be a tool to deepen the divide. #BeBetter
Written by Russ Hicks
I want the best Country possible for my children.
Russ Hicks is a 62 year old Vietnam era Veteran with strong opinions and a humorous take on life.
Follow Russ on Twitter: