On the Pressure to Have an Opinion About Everything (and How it’s Being Used Against You)
I struggle to find topics to write about. That isn’t to say I struggle to find topics that interest me, though. It’s a fine line, but the distinction is important. Every day I learn something new. That is one of the real upsides of social media. If you curate your feeds properly, your time on the platforms can actually be quite educational. I’m constantly stumbling across topics that I want to know more about and discuss. More often than not, though, shutting up and watching other, more knowledgeable, people discuss the matter produces the most benefits for me. I genuinely owe a lot of my personal development and evolution on social and political issues to this process. My opinion doesn’t always matter, and there are times when it doesn’t add anything to the conversation. That’s why I struggle to post sometimes. I’m trying to provide a valuable perspective, and I don’t always have one.
Every day I also learn things I don’t want to know, particularly regarding celebrity gossip. It always trends and spills over into my timeline as people I follow who ought to know better chime in to give their two cents. It’s not possible to mute every celebrity’s name, so there are bound to be days when whatever cheating scandal happens to be trending makes its way across my timeline whether I want it to or not. The celebrity rumor mill is just annoying, though. It’s the outrage seekers who bother me the most. They’re deliberately throwing out the most outlandish, offensive statements looking for a reaction, and nearly everyone piles on to dunk on them, sending their analytics soaring. They sign book and TV deals on the back of the “engagement.” There are times when social pressure does manage to drive a particularly odious person off a social media platform, but more often than not, all the yelling back at them is just feeding the proverbial trolls who are laughing all the way to the bank.
There’s something about the way social media is constructed that makes the people using it feel like we have to have an opinion on everything that comes across our feeds, particularly if it’s inflammatory. It’s something to do with the ability to give instantaneous feedback, I think. Everything’s designed to happen fast, before you can really think things through. There is also a powerful group dynamic at work. I suppose at its heart, participating is about not wanting to feel left out. Then there’s the possibility that your witty tweet might go viral. Attention is this world’s most valuable currency. Kent State Gun Girl understands how powerful the sum of all these urges is. Every dunk fest in her mentions is a win for her. She’s being hate-tweeted into relevance just like Token Lanyard was. There’s a reason I’m not using their names. Every time we do, it’s a small victory for them.
People know they’re being gamed, but they don’t seem to be able to help themselves. They just have to send out that scathing quote tweet. I do it too sometimes. I suppose the most powerful urge at play is the desire to demonstrate that you’re right and someone else is wrong. Our opinions are tied to our egos quite powerfully. That’s what my time on social media has taught me. People feel their pride is at stake in a way. They become invested in “fighting back” against people they feel are harmful — and many of these people are genuinely harmful. Nevertheless, the strategy of engaging with them makes them only stronger. There are ways to argue against and debunk their positions without giving them the engagement metrics. The simplest way is to take a screenshot and share that and your arguments with your followers. Never, ever link back to the troll. We are living in an age of disinformation, and getting us to spread it while we’re outraged it is part of the plan.
Our opinions matter. Sharing them responsibly matters more.