Editor’s note: This column originally appeared in June 2021, but is still applicable today.
For many months, I’ve been yammering on about something that can be summed up in four words: Read more, react less. And just to clarify, that’s not me being preachy to others. No, that message is directed at me just as much as the congregation of column readers. Maybe more.
Over the years, I’ve been on some crusades that are of little consequence. An airing of annoyances, if you will. If I could end the scourge of people writing/saying they “would like to thank” someone instead of just thanking him … or the tired use of the word “legend” for actual people … or the comma before Jr. or Sr. at the end of a man’s name … or the ridiculous obscuring of license plates in photos of “for sale” vehicles that have been traveling on public roadways for years (usually in an ad that includes the owner’s phone number and/or address!) … or the complaints about sports commentators by fans, who can fix their “problem” with a click … or people who don’t know how to park courteously … then life would be a little less annoying for me. It wouldn’t, however, change the world in any meaningful way.
But this mission to get people to ignore social-media and/or stories that they disagree with would make life better for everybody — everybody except for online “media” companies that rely on clickbait and old-fashioned hustlers who rely on race-baiting to remain in power. Ahh, just think how wonderful life would be without them. I have a dream … the same dream that a great leader had a half-century ago with the now novel-sounding idea of judging people by the content of their character instead of the color of their skin. Wouldn’t that be great?
And I also dream of a day that people see something they disagree with, maybe they just smirk and shake their head, then keep scrolling. Why do so many people feel the need to express their opinions about everything?
Now, before continuing, I will comment on the obvious. You Twitter types — if you somehow made it past the first 280 characters — are probably thinking to yourself, “That’s a helluva thing for an opinion columnist to write.”
But there are a few important differences between you and me. First, I get paid to have a weekly column, so it’s part of how I’ve been making a living for about 28 years. My words may not have contributed to society, but the taxes I’ve paid, and goods and services I’ve purchased with my earnings have.
That’s not the main thing that distinguishes my opinion from virtually all that are expressed on social media, though. The thoughts expressed here are based on real-life experiences and/or information from credible sources. The same can be said for just about everything in the paper. We check out things with direct sources before going to print … and if something is proved wrong, we will correct it.
Those steps are usually skipped on social media, and if the people posting are presented with irrefutable evidence that they are wrong, their m.o. is to double down, not to take it down! Then they and their friends/followers commence to staging a cyberattack on the fact-checkers, calling them names — “racist!” or “homophobe!” are a couple of their favorites — and possibly even trying to get them “canceled.” (Remember, feelings matter more than evidence in their strange world.)
Laurel Councilman George Carmichael went off on social media at the first council meeting this month, and that led to a confrontation with one of the targets of his outrage this week. She captured it all on Facebook Live, of course. That’s because it’s all theater with the people Carmichael called “social-media stars” during his fiery speech.
Social media makes people feel like they’re doing something without actually having to do any heavy lifting … or even getting off the couch, for that matter. It’s like all the people who offer prayers (or prayer-hands emojis) during tough times. That’s great, and I’m not discounting the power of prayer, but it always reminds me of the words of a dear preacher friend who was having a tough time with a few petty but powerful parishioners who were working to get rid of him.
Plenty of people whispered their support, saying they’re praying for him and his family. Finally, when his situation was about to reach its breaking point, this Godly man vented to me with something I’ll never forget: “The prayers are nice, but I need someone to get some hair on their ass and actually DO something!”
The social-media stars only care about creating the appearance that they’re doing something and posting things that perpetuate opinions they already have. They wouldn’t go to a rally or help someone in need if their phones were confiscated. Forget gathering up law-abiding citizens’ guns … Seize their smartphones and we’ll get positive change in our country real quick, guaranteed.
Just kidding (for you social-media stars, that would be a smiley or winking emoji). I’m a consistent proponent of the First Amendment, even for idiots. What the rest of us have to do is avoid being idiots by being sucked into the vortex of the social-media world. Keep scrolling!
Remember the simple but wise words of Jim’s daughter Emily Cegielski, who has worked as a reporter and editor at some of the top websites based in New York: “Don’t feed the trolls!”
I remind myself of that statement every time my fingers go to the keyboard to respond to yet another moron on our Facebook page. Sometimes I succumb. And when that happens, I always regret it. Arguing or trying to change someone’s mind with facts on social media is an exercise in futility. You have no chance of success, so go do something constructive instead.
Then remember this: Facebook is full of malcontents and fakes. It’s not the real world. It’s a community that creates the illusion of a groundswell of support that doesn’t translate to the real world — at least not here, so far. One need only look at the last two heated political races to see that.
A couple of years ago, Alex Hodge and his supporters were winning Facebook … but Macon Davis and then Joe Berlin won in the real world. And just this month, Miranda Beard and her followers had a dominant presence on Facebook, but they lost to Johnny Magee at the polls.
Don’t forget those facts.