Here is a thought experiment for you. Take an environment where you are allowed to say pretty much anything, short of hate speech, allow anyone access to this environment, and fling the doors open. It sounds like a wonderful concept, and by all means IS a wonderful concept. But now, lets add another element; those who get the most attention can also reap benefits from that attention, money or otherwise. Or, to be more specific; eyes equals profits. And it doesn’t matter which eyes, or how you got them.
You don’t need to be a genius to figure out that people are going to start lying and manipulating to get that attention. And not only are they going to start lying and manipulating, they are going to start doing it bigger, and about more controversial things, than the person next to them. Because, of course, voices will quickly start to drown one another out unless nerves are getting hit, and hit hard.
Currently social media websites, and you know I’m talking about Facebook, are absolutely drowning in fake news, misinformation, manipulation tactics, and controversial nonsense, all of it clamouring desperately for our attention, much of it aimed at simply outraging people to get that attention, and plenty of it of it claiming to be fighting for a noble cause. And an enormous percentage of it is simply a masquerade, aimed at nothing more than gathering those all important eyes.
A Simmering Pot Of Emotions
Anyone can claim to stand for anything on Facebook, pretend to be an ambassador for literally any cause they can dream up, and tell any outrageous lies they want, the more controversial the better. It’s a simmering pot of emotions, and its only getting gradually worse, the more sophisticated and targeted the nonsense becomes.
Now before people start throwing up there hands in protest, yes, I am aware that there are people out there genuinely on a mission to use social media websites, like Facebook, for good. And I truly commend those people. But even these groups, aiming to achieve genuinely positive results, often sink into the realm of manipulation and emotional perversion to do so.
The Good Turned Bad
Lets say we have a cause; raising awareness of the dangers of problem gambling, for example. In order to achieve this we could put out a post explaining the various issues, and people would respond to a certain extent. Or, we could get almost guaranteed better overall results, more attention, if we posted an image of a glassy eyed, scar faced, zombie-like 15 year old betting their college funds, a hyper-unscrupulous casino owner sneering over them, the menacing casino owner perhaps wearing a monocle and sporting a mouth studded with glistening gold teeth. The words “I bet my future away” in bold red could be emblazoned across the top of the image. I use this example for comedic effect, on Facebook this would more likely take the form of something like; “15 year old takes his life savings to the local casino, and you won’t believe what happened next…”
But problem gambling is an issue, I hear some saying, it’s just using the truth to get needed results. Much like posting images of car crash victims online who were talking on their mobile phones.. but I digress…Yes, I agree, underage gambling is something to be taken seriously, and people should be aware of the potential issues. But the above mentioned shock tactic has also just inserted negativity and horror into the lives of strangers, manipulating them, and shifting their mood drastically towards the negative. Were results achieved? Perhaps, but the people the attention was received from have just been given the gift of sadness and negativity in return. I don’t think that’s a very good exchange, frankly. I don’t think manipulating people’s emotions in this way is ever a fair exchange. It is just that; manipulation, and it has perverted the core issue. There are less invasive ways to get results, that don’t leave perception obscuring stains on everyone who cares to look. Online casinos all encourage responsible gambling, and they offer slots and table games to everyone over a certain age- hyping this up and showing it in a negative way may also stop those who genuinely do have a problem from seeking help.
People Need To Change
I could go on now about how much worse the fake news and manipulation campaigns are on Facebook, how groups with positive intentions have devolved into rampant, monstrous attacks on other groups, how many groups deliberately spread harmful and blatant lies. But I don’t think I need to.
I, personally, tell myself that the majority are smart enough to not to be lured into such things, and hope that it is only a small percentage I see falling victim. I also tell myself that a sort of balance will be struck, with the smart folks gradually extracting themselves from the mess, and simply ignoring it. I know that you, reading this now, are certainly one of those who are smart enough to tell the manipulation and nonsense apart from those really out to achieve good things.
And I commend you for that. And yes, I know that you are also aware that the best thing to do is ignore it, and not wade into it in some sort of valiant effort to defeat it from the inside. That, of course, is all part of the trap.