Usually the ushering in of the new year is a time to work on self-improvement (at least for a few well-intentioned
weeks days). It’s a chance for a fresh start. A clean slate. A blank page in the voluminous tome of life. The uncharted water in that epic sea voyage we call “human existence.”
Awesome metaphors aside, though — today I am bucking that trend. My 2016 New Year’s resolution is not so much a personal goal as much as it is a favor I’m asking of basically everyone on the Internet. Because, to my mind, especially this year, it is of the utmost importance.
There’s no denying that, like it or not, we are now living in the age of Donald Trump. Not just in terms of politics (though this is certainly a new forum for his exploits), but also in our everyday online interactions. Memes have become the self-imposed newspeak of our generation. Thoughtful expressions are eschewed in favor of trite denunciations and personal attacks. The quality of civil discourse is stunted and sad.
This is not to say that the well-crafted meme, much like its predecessor the political cartoon, does not hold a place in political discussion. I love a good meme. It can drive home a point in a single image sometimes far more effectively than any written explanation. And it’s usually hilarious to boot. But the meme-market isn’t limited to witty political satirists. Anyone with an Internet connection can whip up a meme (or alter an existing template), and — perhaps more frustratingly — click “share” to send them all over social media in the blink of an eye. The ones that are most problematic are those that attribute quotes and incidents to particular figures that are not only misleading, but also flat-out wrong. And yet they spread like wildfire, with only a few (if any) of those sharing it even bothering to check its veracity. I would venture to call it an epidemic. (Epi-meme-ic? I’m not sure if that fully works. But let’s go with it.) So what are we — the public, inclusive of these memers, but more specifically those of us who hope for a better way to dialogue — to do?
Here’s where my request comes in. Please, Internet users of the world, for the love of everything good and holy, do NOT share and repost things without first doing a 10-second Google search to check if they’re true/correct/attributed to the right person/not a totally fabricated piece of drama-stirring lunacy. While there isn’t much we can do in the way of preventing idiots from creating terrible and inaccurate memes, we sure as hell can control our own temptations to indiscriminately perpetuate bad information. Keep Snopes in your bookmarks for easy access, if it helps.
Following this, then, is part two of my New Year’s request: after your 10-second search, regardless of your findings, KEEP READING. If you’re looking into a topic that interests you, learn about it. Try to find more than one source. Whenever possible, stick to reputable resources; if you’re unsure of what’s reputable, try to find a variety of viewpoints to get a better picture of what’s going on, who thinks what, and why that is the case. Use this generalized research as a tool to better discern fact from fiction and to make sure your own opinion is being formed from a careful weighing of all available information. Don’t just click and share. FIGURE STUFF OUT. Contemplate it.
The point of this (admittedly preachy) post isn’t to put myself above the masses in terms of my opinions. Of course I think my own ideas are right, but I welcome and enjoy discussions with others of a different mind — as long as they have come to their viewpoints through a process of reasoned thought and deliberation. My goal is for the vast majority of click-sharers (you know who you are) to take control of their own opinions — whatever those opinions may be. I would love for the American public — and anyone else — to be able to raise the bar of civil discourse and counter opposing viewpoints with more valid critiques instead of distortions and lies.
Because, oh my God, you guys — these memes. THESE MEMES. They are killing our capacity to dialogue with one another in any productive way.
TL:DR (ugh, you are already part of the problem); research stuff. Be aware before you share. Please and thank you. The end.
And, um, Happy New Year.
[Cat pic courtesy of Chris Erwin.]