Being Salt and Light Amid the Angry Mobs of Social Media

Reading Jaron Lanier’s Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now wasn’t the first time I’ve been advised to delete my accounts. I’ve been told this many times before, less out of concern for my emotional safety and more out of frustration and anger. The most noteworthy time, I’d attempted to inject a little bit about the nature of human dignity into a Twitterverse that was, at the time, reveling in a video of someone sucker-punching a neo-Nazi.

Of course, what was meant as a humble (okay, maybe not-so-humble) reminder of human dignity was interpreted instead as a coy defense of bigotry. My actual argument was quite the opposite: Dignity is such a crucial, fundamental quality of the human person that totally reprehensible views—even dangerous views—do not justify a unilateral act of violence.

Soon enough, Twitter at-large saw my tweet plucked away from the tweets that instigated the argument in the first place, outside the context of my own Twitter account. It was retweeted by more than a few popular activists, with frustrated and insinuating commentary. At that point, the ball was rolling, and it could not be stopped.

An Attack on Our Souls
Lanier, a pioneer in virtual reality technology, confesses to grave doubts about the world he and other Silicon Valley dreamers have created: “We have given up our connection to context. Social media mashes up meaning. Whatever you say will be contextualized and given meaning by the way algorithms, crowds, and crowds of fake people who are actually algorithms mash it up with what other people say.”

In other words, my somewhat innocent, if careless attempt to inject balance into a loaded discussion was never going to stand on its own. It was destined to clash with an existing narrative—one in which my argument, true or not, was being used as a tool by those with far less noble intentions. Those with opposing views run into the same gauntlet.

Rather than a good-faith negotiation, the context social media provides is really more like a football field. We’re all trying to gain ground by way of attention. My tweet got low-key “ratioed” (Twitter-slang for when a tweet gains more replies than likes or retweets, signaling a general sense that the internet has condemned your thought). Both by the standards of Twitter and by the standards of a writer, my tweet failed. Not only did it get more argument than appreciation on the surface, but it also failed to engender understanding or change minds. The question at hand is why?

Central to Lanier’s argument is the idea that the social media revolution (and more importantly, the economic model on which it is based) is an unprecedented attack on a virtuous society. As the title of his book suggests, this attack is a holistic one, mounted not only against our character, politics, and pocketbooks but our very souls.

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SOURCE: Christianity Today, Richard Clark