Social Media and The “Lynch Mob”

I have always been interested in the debate concerning social media and its effects on people’s lives. There have been numerous cases of someone receiving offline harassment, threats, employment loss or even violence due to something that originated online. Since 2014 we have had movements like Gamergate come into the woodwork, attacking the supposed corrupting influence of feminism in video games and defending death threats as a manifestation of their free speech. This becomes the crux of the argument about social media and its real world effects. If we have freedom of speech, why should people care what we say about people online or in a video?

Earlier this week, comedian Patton Oswalt criticized Trump in one of his tweets. Real estate agent Tony Brust then responded, “”Oh (bleep), the little troll has an opinion again”. This first comment is insulting and unimaginative, but it is not the tweet that resulted in Brust losing his job. Instead of quitting while he was ahead, Brust decided to bring Oswalt’s deceased wife into the argument: “I’m a psychic and I am channeling his wife’s opinions.”

Once Oswalt’s twitter followers saw this tweet, they also noticed that Brust was using his professional social media to tweet. Users immediately found the link to Jim Maloof realtor’s and began calling the company and posting complaints about Brust’s behaviour. Brust is now out of a job.

People may disagree with me for this, but I see this as a form of poetic justice. Many will be quick to use the free speech excuse, but I find that many people misunderstand what free speech means. Brust did not go to jail for his tweet. That is the crux of freedom of speech, freedom to criticize the government and law enforcement without legal consequences. Freedom of speech does not mean that someone is immune to criticism and consequences from their peers. The government didn’t demand Brust’s resignation, Oswalt’s twitter followers did. Maloof Realty had to distance themselves from the bad press and did so in the most logical way. It is their freedom to choose to protect their reputation and their earnings by cutting off the cancerous tumour.

I also find that people often forget that freedom of speech is a double-edged sword. For example, President Trump said the Hamilton cast was out of line for criticizing Vice President Pence, but he also supported the unfounded allegations that Obama is a foreign-born Muslim. Trump had no problem using his freedom of speech to assert that a President’s birth certificate isn’t valid, but he was also insulted that the Hamilton cast would have go off-script to address his VP. People invoke freedom of speech as an excuse when people express views they do not agree with.

An ‘extremely credible source’ has called my office and told me that @BarackObama‘s birth certificate is a fraud.

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 6, 2012

From http://www.cnn.com/2016/09/09/politics/donald-trump-birther/

I make it clear that I don’t agree with bigoted comments, and I don’t criticize someone simply for having the audacity to say something bigoted. I pick apart their argument for inaccuracies and bias. I always thought this argument of freedom of speech vs social media was isolated to teenagers and young adults who were still mentally maturing. If my time as a teaching assistant served as any indication, the next generation has a long way to go. Anyways, debate about this online from the Chicago Tribune to Cracked demonstrates that people of all ages are divided about Brust’s fate. Aside from the freedom of speech argument, some argue that “lynch mobs” don’t help anyone. This complaint also comes across as hypocritical since lynch mobs like Gamer-gate are often supported or defended  (usually with the excuse of free speech as well). It is alright to send death threats to women for their involvement in video games, but it is not okay to get someone fired for cruel comments they publicly made to someone else. I honestly suspect that the people jumping to Brust’s defence either support what he said, or are sympathetic because they often make similar comments online.

Employment is partly based on skill, but should also factor in someone’s character. I wouldn’t want someone like Brust to sell me a house or an apartment. Some may think it is cruel that he lost his job over something so foolish, but that is his problem. Brust is the one who didn’t have enough restraint and foresight to see the consequences of his actions. As the Cracked article explains, studies have found that people with more empathy have a better understanding of actions and consequences. Brust clearly lacks the necessary empathy, and maturity, to realize that his short-sighted tweet took things too far. Why is he worthy of our empathy? Social media is not private. You can make some profile’s visible only to a limited circle of people, but once you engage in an argument or conversation with someone else, the conversation becomes public. If you can apply for a job online, don’t be surprised that you can also lose one online. Public actions, have consequences.

 

Updates

Hello everyone,

Likely won’t be posting again until Monday so I thought I would wrap up this week with some updates.

Firstly, analytics are now installed and they reveal that my instagram accounts and other social media have barely helped to increase readership. I got caught in the trap of assuming that vanity metrics (followers, retweets etc.) equaled engagement. If you are a reader or a user who has joined through social media, it is much appreciated.

There are times when I have tweeted a link to an article and assumed that everyone who liked the post must have read it. Checking the amount of “link clicks” then makes it clear that some people just liked the tweet and ignored the link. Maybe a certain word caught their attention. I had one post that criticized girls who “like hockey players“. It seems like a bunch of girls just saw the words “hockey players” and thought “I like hockey players!” before liking the tweet.

Although my dream is to make a living writing full-time my more practical career goal is to become involved in public relations. PR emphasizes the importance of social media for increasing visits to a website and increased engagement. Although there are many successful examples of this, it appears that I need to take my own website as an object lesson of a social media campaign that has yielded poor results. I’m going to have to look into the steps I need to take to convert more twitter followers and Instagram users into readers of the website. It is great to have an audience on other platforms, but my original goal was to create one large audience instead of multiple, splintered ones.

On to less depressing material… I finished reading 100 Bullets and will be writing a short review for comicommand over the weekend.  I am currently reading Preacher and the first five issues already have me hooked. I might check out the tv show afterwards.

For those reading this, have a great weekend.

Novels to Novellas- Embracing A.D.D

While updating my LinkedIn profile I got an alert about a new topic in the “Writers and Authors Circle”. The post was a brief one, more like a status update, entitled “A Brave Novella World”. The author basically argued that due to shrinking attention spans novellas will become more popular than novels since they are shorter. A novella is typically between 20000-5000 words, while most novels are at least 60,000 words.

So it makes sense that people will be able to read novellas easier than they read books, but it is not this point that bothers me. What bothered me about this article was the mindset that writers have to accommodate for shrinking attention spans. As I wrote in a reply, it is like saying we have to mark homework easier so children get better grades. Children get better grades but they do not learn as much. They will graduate and keep moving up the academic ladder, but that is how we end up with university graduates with poor writing and communication skills. After serving as a teaching assistant at McMaster University, the poor level of writing skill from some students baffled me. Simple matters of grammar and punctuation eluded some of them, and as I read through the post on LinkedIn it was easy to see why. We live in a culture where many people are apparently not taught to try to improve on themselves. Instead of working to improve our attention spans, or to improve our writing skills, we are taught to blame the systems that judge us for our deficiencies.

This is what leads to grown men and women (not just teens) embracing this LinkedIn post. This is what leads to people supporting the post and sharing details or their own short attention spans. Letting us know it is important to make literary works shorter so that there is more time “to text friends and enjoy movies and TV”. What a dreadful world it would be if we had to sacrifice those amenities in order to read a “300 page book”. Never mind the fact that you can read a 300-page book in ten days if you read just 30 pages a day. Or you can even read just ten pages a day for a month if your attention span is truly suffering.

I am not trying to sound superior in anyway. I have also struggled with the issue of a shrinking attention span as well. Since I started using Instagram to promote the blog I have also found myself compulsively checking my phone for updates or to mindlessly scroll through pictures. I even did that once while writing this piece. However, I am not deliberately making this piece shorter so I can go back to things like texting and movies. As with any of my blog posts, I could write longer pieces since the topics are often so broad. However, I choose to keep the pieces somewhat concise. While I do not want to appease A.D.D I also do not want to write a dissertation for every blog post. A big part of the reason for that is because I want people to read the whole thing and I realize getting readers to consume a very long piece every week might be asking a bit much. Another reason is the fact that I am also trying to make time for other productive duties, like writing my second book, learning French, practicing the guitar, going to the gym etc.

I have acknowledged that my attention span is dwindling but I am not avoiding reading or seeking out shorter books so that I can appease this shrinking attention span. I am trying to fight against it. I am making a conscious effort to read every day, in order to ensure that I read one book every month. I am fighting against the system, not embracing it. It is the same principle we adopt for fighting unjust laws. Instead of going along with them and accepting it as part of the system, we do our best to raise awareness of alternatives and make those alternatives a reality. Do not fall into the trap of thinking that a shrinking attention span must be embraced. Realize that you have the time, and more importantly the will, to fight it.

The Validation Machine

Our society is crumbling under a new epidemic,

This is not a sickness that comes and goes, like the flu,

Or one that will have its time in the spotlight before it’s overcome, like Ebola,

We are dealing with a disease that will mutate and become the black plague of this generation,

A renaissance will not follow the plague this time,

This disease will bring us out of our renaissance and into the dark ages,

The disease has many forms and is known by many names,

There are many ways for it to be transmitted, but there is one that I want to target,

The disease is narcissism and the instrument of transmission is social media,

 

Blaming social media is too simplistic though,

The disease starts before we are even old enough to use it,

We have parents who tell their kids that they are great at everything,

That every terrible piece of art they present is astounding,

That every participation ribbon they receive is the mark of a champion,

These children grow into teens, who aren’t ready for the real world,

The real world doesn’t coddle them the same way their parents did,

They face failure, rejection and disappointment,

With these experiences, the disgruntled teen faces two options

1) Embrace the challenges and become a better person for doing so, letting these experiences become lessons

2)   Or they can let these experiences crush their confidence, leading to a path of insecurity and overcompensation

 

Most people opt for the second option

All hail social media,

 

Likes, comments= validation,

The teen in still insecure,

They have not truly accomplished anything that gives them real confidence,

Titles like “model” are hollow,

They don’t work with an agency,

All their pictures and ‘profound’ thoughts aren’t part of a wider effort to promote work they have created or a brand they are developing,

Their bodies, their vapid minds are the totality of their brand,

I do not want to focus on women either,

Men are guilty of this attention seeking as well, either through posting pictures or pining for women in other pictures,

 

Men desperately seek their own validation: attention from the opposite sex, maybe even the same sex

Yet these same men will be taken aback when people they talk to are stuck up and rude,

Don’t spend your free time inflating someone’s ego with likes and comments, and then be surprised when they develop a superiority complex,

You may not talk to all the same people you follow and like on social media,

But you must realize that most people you speak to are on the quest for validation,

They will have their own horde of adoring men and women who make things worse for you,

This horde gives them the ego needed to disregard the people they speak to in real life,

We are all part of the cycle of insecurity, validation and narcissism,

When society crumbles this time,

It won’t be due to a great war,

It will be an insidious disease that slowly stripped away the foundations of hard work, civility and resilience,

 

 

 

The World We Live In

I remember hearing a spoken word poet say that he hates girls who think being pretty is an occupation,

That was about ten years ago,

He must hate the world we live in now,

Instagram and Facebook have given birth to a new horde of girls pining for attention from horny friends and strangers on the Internet,

It is truly a bold new era for “models” or cats,

While some girls seek adoration for their bodies,

There’s also a new generation that seeks love, without any idea of what the word really means,

I’d like to blame chick lit and YA crap like Twilight for conditioning teen girls to think a healthy relationship involves latching onto their boyfriend like a lamprey,

However, I think Twilight would just be a scapegoat,

 

In the great Western world, we either have less important issues to worry about,

Or we ignore them with sedatives like reality TV and social media,

Even if we use social media to acknowledge the issues around us,

We usually just give a like or a share to show how involved, intelligent and compassionate we are,

Then it’s back to our daily cycle of pointless, unfulfilling, mind-numbing media

The Devolution of Man

I heard a joke by a preacher today,
He said you never see a hearse followed by a U-Haul,
Meaning that all of the possessions we work so hard for in life don’t follow us when we die,

The lesson?
Yet another one attacking materialism,
Coming from a man who probably pockets a decent portion of the church offerings,
Maybe he has a point though?
It is true that when we are dead, our valued possessions can no longer bring us comfort,
It is also true that money does not bring happiness,
How many adored celebrities have committed suicide?

We all know these lessons,
We read books, we watch movies that criticize our materialistic lifestyle,
Yet we never internalize their messages and make attempts to truly change our outlook,
We may have evolved over time, but we are still a species driven by competition,
Many of us are fortunate enough not to have to fight or compete for food, water, shelter,
So what do we do?
We compete for more frivolous things,
The newest phone, the latest shoes, the latest console,
We compete for more attention, more likes, retweets,
This is our struggle, these are our resources