When Debates Became Battles

Welcome to the age of snide comments and memes.

“But wait,” you say, “it’s been that way for a while now.”  Well hold on there.  What if I told you this was a problem?  What if I told you that all those snide comments and memes probably and likely contributed to the political divide we saw on display during this election season?  What if I told you that the memes aren’t what they seem?

 

Why yes Morpheus, do go on.

Why yes Morpheus, do go on.

 

In an age where social media dominates, perhaps it was inevitable that our chosen form of information consumption would come from pictures with white words written on them.  This is the internet age, where being “viral” is everything.  So many are looking for their fifteen minutes of fame.  But ironically, it is usually those who aren’t looking for their time in the spotlight that actually get time in the spotlight.  Because that’s just the weird way the internet works.

But all that viral meme-ness has led to a lot of misinformation and false statistics.  For example, you may remember this meme going around a while back:

 

gun-violence-meme

 

It echoes a certain sentiment that pro-gun people have, namely that gun control doesn’t work.  But here’s the problem: the meme is inaccurate.  No matter what metric you use, it seems that it is impossible to put the United States in third place when it comes to murders.  Now, understandably, that makes the second part of the meme much harder to test.  But as Snopes found out, it still doesn’t add up.  Using FBI statistics from 2012, they found that those four cities added together only account for about 7.8 percent of murders in the United States.  So basically, not enough to push the U.S. up from “fourth from the bottom” on this theoretical list of murders.

It might not seem like this meme had all that much impact, considering that it has faded out of view (at least, I haven’t seen it in quite a while).  But in an age when all criticism can be countered by screaming “FAKE NEWS” in all caps on Twitter, things like this are more dangerous than ever.

Memes like these leave no room for debate, nor were they meant to.  They usually come with links to an incredibly biased source or sometimes no links at all.  You’re expected to take them at their word, which is troublesome because so many are filled with biased rhetoric.  They’re not meant to encourage discussion.  They’re meant as a “so there” to discourage any opposing viewpoints.

 

chicago-teen-meme

Memes like this are only ever meant as a self-affirming fist pump, a soothing assurance to a select group of people that their worldview is right and all others are wrong.

 

And misinformation is just as dangerous as ever.  For example, recently an anti-abortion group called “Live Action” released a video that claimed Planned Parenthood was lying about providing access to prenatal care.  Of course, once you actually dig into the story, you’ll find that what Live Action really did was take things out of context so that their viewers would reach the conclusion they wanted them to reach.

That’s exactly what’s so dangerous about the widespread use of memes in political discourse.  It’s very easy for people to click “share” on something that coincides with their views.  It doesn’t matter if the meme is factually inaccurate.  It makes them feel good, so they share it.  And when something like that catches fire on the internet, it becomes nearly impossible to put out.

And in case you think I’m being biased, the left (or liberals, if you prefer) is guilty of this as well.  You might have seen this meme going around during election season:

 

trump-dumbest-voters

 

Ouch.  Yeah, it’s pretty harsh.  Also it’s totally bunk.  There is nothing in People Magazine’s online archive where Trump is quoted as saying anything even close to that.  But still, it was shared and liked by many liberals on Facebook, simply because it fit their mental image of Trump.

If you’re going to criticize someone, criticize them for something they actually did.  And believe me, there’s plenty of things Trump did that are critique worthy.

These days, debates have turned into fights.  They’re no longer about learning, they’re about winning.  They’re no longer about growing as a person, they’re about never admitting you lost.  Instead of trying to understand where someone with an opposing view is coming from, it’s about disparaging them and calling them names.  Why listen to what they’re saying when you can just brush them off as the “regressive left” or the “racist right”?

Bottom line is, we need to be vigilant.  Especially now, in an era where photos and information can be easily manipulated or taken out of context and made to suit specific agendas.  And I get it, it’s hard.  There are even blog sites out there that will make themselves appear to be a news website in an attempt to gain more followers or spread their message.  It’s a metaphorical minefield out there on the internet. and you can never be one hundred percent certain you won’t step right on top of one.  But you can do your part.  Before you click “share” on that buzzy meme, maybe do a little searching on Google to see if the meme’s information is accurate.  If it isn’t, don’t give it the time of day.  Don’t give it its fifteen minutes of fame.  Don’ t give it time in the spotlight.  You’ll be doing us all a favor.

And now, before I go, I leave you with this:

 

willy-wonky-generated-meme

 

Yes, I did that all by myself…using tools I found on the internet.

……

Don’t look at me like that.

 

Thanks for reading!  Check back next Wednesday for another post, and as always, have a wonderful week.

You can like the Rumination on the Lake Facebook page here.

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