Social media. The outrage machine. Place a small bit of anger into the tunnel, and the machine births 50 times more anger and outrage than you held in the first place. Magnified. Expanded. Ballooned into a toxic bubble of information, misinformation, lies, and disrespect. When will the bubble burst?
I started Facebook in the early 2000s to keep up and laugh with college friends. For awhile, not long, that’s all it was, a place to connect and keep in touch. Many experiences led me to leave Facebook (see An Open Letter to Mr. Zuckerberg), and one of them was what I view as the beginning of a toxic culture among people I thought I knew. I watched as many continued to use Facebook posts as a way to “educate” others on their ineptitude and idiocies, on the injustices of society and the true state of the world. Often, however, these posts were simply that, just posts. And more often than not, very one-sided and those posting had no interest in initiating any dialogue or conversation whatsoever. Rather, they were posting as an exclamation. My best friend referred to them at the time as “Armchair Activists”, meaning those who will happily sit at home and post angry op-eds and diatribes on the state of the world, yet they do nothing to act and initiate positive change themselves. Instead, they preferred to slide down the rabbit hole of social media to “inform” society. I found too, shockingly, many did not fact-check much of the information they were posting.
I have since moved on to Twitter. And oh boy, what a machine this has become. Now, don’t get me wrong, I know plenty of reasons exist today for people to be enraged. And I do know many injustices exist, and wrongs need be righted. And as a history teacher, I recognize the power of this anger to initiate change, all over the world we have seen the power of social media as dictators have fallen and people have taken to the streets. So part of this machine can be a powerful positive. Yet, lurking behind the scenes, cogs in the machine are jammed and ineffective. Parts of the machine are spewing flawed products. Lies, misinformation, and false outrage. Much like a middle school cafeteria rumor mill.
Americans are not terribly intentional in those they select to follow. Or the information they choose to read. Long gone are the jokes about false information — ”Oh, I read it on the internet”. The internet has become the purveyor of truth. And Americans have become more and more enraged, funneling more anger into the machine causing the machine to spew more and more in return. And we have begun to allow the machine to control the narrative.
Some way, somehow, Americans must pull a different lever on the outrage machine. Use it differently. Generate information providing positive change through hope and ideas, not fear. The social media companies themselves have clearly demonstrated their refusal to improve the platforms. Outrage makes money. Fear makes money. Just as the British used the colonists to generate cash and build world dominance, social media platforms are using Americans to build their own empires.
Will we, as Americans, pop the bubble, or will we allow the machine to suffocate us?