Friday, January 25, 2019

The unhinged busy unhinging

It’s no secret that social media, particularly in the USA, has become a polarised, extremely toxic place, especially over the past couple years. It seems to be getting worse, if anything, with unhinged comments popping up all over the place, often in very unexpected places. It’s getting so the only logical solution is to block unhinged commenters.

Yesterday evening I checked Facebook, and my timeline had a post to a Facebook Group I’m part of, one on print advertising from the middle of last century onwards. I enjoy that subject for multiple reasons—the evolution of graphic and advertising design, nostalgia, even for seeing ideas I can adapt for modern ads. It’s all a bit of fun, really, and nothing serious.

Until last night.

Someone that I do not know—an American or someone pretending to be an American—posted an especially unhinged rant complaining about Leftists commenting that ads are racist, sexist, homophobic, etc. From there he devolved into a smears and defamatory nonsense about Leftists more generally. It was all WAY over the top, and totally inappropriate for a forum that’s just not that serious.

I checked out the guy’s profile to try and work out if he was serious or trolling, something I’ve always done in such cases, and nearly all his posts were either general pretty far rightwing memes, support for the current regime, and various attacks on “the Left”. It seemed to me he was another easily-triggered rightwinger who couldn’t stand the fact that someone somewhere might see the world differently than he did.

So, I posted a comment that was dripping with sarcasm:
Fun (apparently little known) facts about Facebook:

Membership in all Groups is optional. So is clicking “Like” for any page.

Leaving a comment or making a post is optional.

Reading a comment on a post is optional.

Bothersome posts can be hidden.

Triggering commenters can be blocked.

All groups can be left at any time, and any Page can be un-Liked.

As Captain Planet used to say, “The power is YOURS!”
If I’d been making the comment on a computer, rather than my iPad, I’d probably have edited that to make it punchier, but that’s not easy to do in a Facebook App, and, besides, comments were coming thick and fast and I wanted to get in before, I assumed, group Admins deleted the post.

Someone responded to my post saying something about people really making political comments like the rightwinger suggesting they did, but I responded basically saying that I didn’t know because I almost never read the comments on posts in that group. But that doesn’t change the truth in my sarcastic comment, the power really is ours to get rid of obnoxious comments.

The qualifiers I used in the previous paragraph are for a very good reason: I can’t remember precisely what was said, and, as I thought would happen, Admins deleted the post in question. The only reason I know what I said is that I got an email notification of the comments, and that included the full text of mine. Lucky me.

Someone else left a totally irrelevant ranting comment about how they’d once believed in “socialism”, but they’d supposedly studied the UK’s health system, and voila!, they abandoned Progressivism and support for Bernie Sanders to vote for the 2016 Republican nominee. I didn’t consider that comment to be legitimate.

And this is a constant problem with comments on posts to groups, media outlets’ pages, etc.: There are comments that may not be from real people, and we have no way of knowing. My standard response has been to block people leaving unhinged comments in such places, some Leftwing (or pretending to be), but mostly Rightwing (or pretending to be).

Today, however, I saw that a person I actually know posted an admittedly political post, so pushback from those who disagree isn’t a surprise. One hopes they’ll stick to facts and reason and be rational, though these days that’s often too much to hope for. It certainly was today: The guy commented making yet another unhinged rightwing rant, full of spittle-flecked rage at those with whom he disagreed, rather than even trying to engage in a discussion.

I checked out his profile, since it was a FB friend of a FB friend, and found that he posted rightwing things, including some anti-gay stuff. I blocked him. Then I commented, again, sarcastically:
Well, a good thing came from this post: One more racist, sexist, anti-gay far-right ranter with a hair-trigger is now blocked on my Facebook so I’ll never see his erudite, correctly spelled, rational comments again.
In reply to another comment, I added:
I had to check out his FB page, which was public enough, and most of the posts were aggressive rightwing memes. But there were also ones that seemed to be him talking (well, yelling…) to himself (apart from someone posting on his page “racist” in all caps).

The thing is, I can’t tell anymore who’s trolling, who’s real and disturbing, or who’s just personally disturbed. The only rational option is to block such people, real or not, so I don’t have to see their unhinged rants. It seems to be something that’s becoming more frequent, sadly.
And that’s the problem: Who is real? And, what comments are real and sincere, and which are faked and trolling? We know that political operatives attempt to game social media all the time, and we know that bots really are a thing, especially on Twitter. Does it make any sense to assume a comment we encounter on Facebook is from a real person?

Honestly, I don’t think it matters. There’s a huge difference between comments left by rational people with whom we may disagree, and irrational people being offensive, confrontational and divisive apparently for its own sake. When the person is rational, we can learn something, including how “the other side” thinks. But when the person is irrational, there’s nothing to be learned or gained.

Instead, I think we have both the right and even an obligation to ourselves to remove those irrational—and possibly fake—people from our attention so that we can better focus of things said by rational people. That’s why I block people on social media so frequently: If they’re irrational, overly aggressive, and offensive for its own sake, they’re gone. I do this mostly on Twitter where I can block 10-20 “people” whenever I visit. I block people on Facebook far less frequently, but I don’t hesitate to do so.

Twitter has become a highly toxic place, so much so that I seldom use it anymore. Facebook’s public pages can be every bit as bad, like, for example, rightwingers (or accounts pretending to be rightwingers) going to Left-leaning pages just to stir shit (all Facebook Pages are public, but Groups can be private). A rational person wouldn’t bother because they wouldn’t care.

Life means disagreement—sometimes heated disagreement. We need to be able to deal with that. But when someone becomes aggressive and ugly in their comments, we don’t have to tolerate it, and I don’t. It’s unusual for two examples to pop up so close to each other, but that’s precisely why I’m mentioning them.

That and, all joking aside, the power really is ours.

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