The Center for Literate Values ~ Defending the Western tradition of responsible individualism, disciplined freedom, tasteful creativity, common sense, and faith in a supreme moral being.
P R A E S I D I U M
A Common-Sense Journal of Literary and Cultural Analysis
17.4 (Fall 2017)
F I N A L I S S U E
The E-World vs. Free Speech
Repost, Retweet Culture
Wesley Ross Harris
Whether or not the First Amendment escapes a haircut will prove largely irrelevant if “retweet culture” conditions us to file like cattle down narrow chutes of intellectual activity.
I think I’ve found one of the most effective tools for enhancing groupthink in a society while decreasing individual reasoning. What is that, you ask? Social media. More specifically, reposting, retweeting, or “liking” what one sees on social media.
Now, I know what you may be thinking. Oh, boy, more bashing of social media! I’ve heard this before. But hold on just a second. I actually serve as a writing and social media intern for a small online Christian magazine. I post on the magazine’s site fairly often, and I also create videos to put on the magazine’s Facebook page. So, I for one don’t believe social media is all evil. It can be used for good.
As a millennial who is active on Facebook, perhaps the most concerning thing I see on Facebook is this. Someone posts an article from a prominent magazine, or some other kind of quote or picture (or meme, if you’re familiar with those) that espouses a certain stance or belief (often political). Someone else on the social networking site sees the post and, if he or she agrees with the political position of the post, reposts it so that all of his or her friends can see it as well, often without even reading the article or fact checking the claims it makes.
For instance, the recent document entitled The Nashville Statement, a document signed by prominent evangelical leaders, states, among other things, that the homosexual/transgender lifestyle is not consistent with God’s design but that it also doesn’t put those living that lifestyle “outside the hope of the gospel” https://cbmw.org/nashville-statement/ . Once news of The Nashville Statement spread, those who support gay and transgender rights immediately took to social media to express their displeasure. Their friends, once they saw the rage-filled posts, reposted them for all of their friends to see. Thus, rage spread around like wildfire, even though probably less than half of these people actually took the time to read the document. Someone spoke out against the gay/transgender lifestyle? Bigots! Homophobes! Hate-filled Christians!
Another painfully obvious example is the recent hullaballoo about Confederate monuments. Someone posts an article saying we should take down all the Confederate monuments because they represent racism and hate and whatever else. Then, someone else on social media sees the article, perhaps reads through it, and then spreads it around for all their friends to see. Every left-leaning person—that is, the ones who actually have a soul and care about stamping out racism—whips into a frenzy and yells, “We have to purge our nation of these racist monuments!” Did they take time to research the monuments? Probably not. Did they take time to research Robert E. Lee? Why would I? He’s a racist. Did they take time to consider another alternative besides ripping down the monuments, or did they consider the implications of white-washing history? Perhaps some people did, but a lot of people sure didn’t.
Now, before conservatives think they’re off the hook, I’ll give an example of how this happens on the right. A conservative group posted on Facebook claiming that none of the mosques in the Houston area opened up their doors to help Hurricane Harvey victims. God-fearing patriots’ heads burst into flames as they shared this post with all their friends to show how cold and unsympathetic these hateful Muslims are. But did they fact check to see if this claim is true? Obviously not, because several news organizations documented how Houston-area mosques opened their doors as 24-hour shelters (just google “Houston mosques open doors to help Harvey victims”).
Orwell would be proud. These people aren’t thinking for themselves. They just follow along with the crowd.
And what about reasonable debates online, so maybe we as Americans can understand each other? They pretty much don’t exist. What does exist is what C.S. Lewis called Bulverism. Why take the time to craft a logical argument when you can just shout down your opponent? The one who shouts loudest wins!
Perhaps people engaged in as much groupthink 50 years ago as they do now. But it sure seems to me it’s getting worse. Unfortunately, social media is largely to blame.
Wesley Ross Harris recently received his B.A. in English from the University of Texas at Austin and is now (as indicated in his piece) pursuing a career in editing. He is no relation to any of our staff, though he was once a very memorable student in a class taught by our organization’s president.