May 1, 2020•636 words
If a friend describes to you some weird random physical pain they’re experiencing, probably the best thing you can say to them is, “you’ll be fine.” It’ll pass. In most cases this ends up being true.
But imagine making a “spiritual” symptom checker website where the result for every input is “you’ll be fine” (rather than the present “you have cancer” minefield). You’d get harassed and bullied mercilessly for reckless endangerment.
The difference between the friend and the internet is that on the internet, everyone thinks you’re talking to them.
I think a valid response to disagreement on the internet is, “I’m not talking to you.”
If I say it’s nice and sunny today, and you say no, actually, it’s cold and windy where I am, it’s simply the case that I wasn’t talking to you, but talking to people who may agree with, or are able to empathize with, my perspective. Or perhaps share the same circumstances.
On Twitter, people attempt to speak to their finite followers. Not the infinite, never ending, ever-disagreeing masses. Tweets are forcefully ejected from their target audience through retweets, which is like having something you say to a small group of friends amplified to your entire town. Surely almost never what you want.
If someone says something on the internet, and you disagree with it, while even just one other person finds it agreeable, you have no more business interrupting that conversation than you do interrupting two people chatting arbitrarily ridiculous opinions in a cafe.
I say ridiculous shit to my friends all the time that I wouldn’t dare say on the internet. Not because I’m afraid to say those things, but because, I’m not talking to you.
To the whole wide world, I really don’t have much to say. Which is probably why I struggle to tweet. Who even are you, shape-shifting person reading my non-existent tweets?
I think Twitter, blogs, and social media, compared to say PhD dissertations, are fine places to post ridiculous opinions which you truly have conviction for.
If I tell a friend who complains of a tummy ache, "you’ll be fine," I’m a good friend. But in a tweet, I’d be a horrible person. If I tell a friend, “perhaps this lockdown needs to end and is causing more harm than good,” the friend either agrees or counters cordially. On the internet, you’re a horrible person. I suppose in this particular case, this horrible opinion of mine, spoken privately, goes to corrupt only one other individual, whereas on Twitter, I’m “corrupting” 34 million individuals.
I argue that someone who gains millions of followers on a play social media website is not suddenly responsible for changing the nature of their discourse. Certainly, for your own peace of mind, you should tweet with caution if you wield such influence. But there is no moral obligation for someone who did nothing but create a social media profile and gained a few million voluntary followers to suddenly align their opinions with those of health experts and the scientific community.
This case may be difficult to make with someone like Musk, but imagine an 11-year-old who gains fifty million followers and begins expressing, what can only naturally be, bullshit opinions. Ought this child complete a university degree before expressing any sentiment on current events? Or ought you to simply understand the context that an 11-year-old is saying something ridiculous not worthy of taking too seriously?
If you want accreditation, if you want peer review, if you want vetted opinions, this is not the domain of Twitter, nor Facebook, nor any other casual social media network. Perhaps a scientific journal has what you’re looking for?
If you want bullshit conversation, welcome to Twitter.
Welcome to the internet.
Slogan? Try not to get so upset about what you see.