The Facebook Argument Of The Week

Tommy Lee Jones

I remember a world before the internet. At least, I think I do. But really, I remember a world before trending topics. Facebook used to be a place where I had to think of something creative to put in the “Scott is___” status bar.

I always had trouble with those.

I also used to use Facebook to talk to my friends. I guess it was easier than texting on my Motorla Razr. If you go back in my friend history it’s usually just a bunch of weird conversations on each other’s walls.

But, now, I don’t really use it for anything like that anymore. Now, I mostly just self-promote things I’ve written (guess it worked for you!) and to read the headlines of links people have shared about something they are very passionate about. I hate being this way, but I always end up just rolling my eyes and silently judging people for being so passionate about something I don’t care about.

Which is why the recent “controversy” about Starbucks actually struck a nerve with me. Everyone stole my bit! Everyone was so passionate about showing how little they cared about the red cups. I actually saw no one…not one single person…on my timeline that was actually mad at Starbucks. In fact, I’m convinced that this whole thing was fake. Maybe a select few people were mad, but 98% of people just didn’t care.

My boss and I always end up having conversations about topics like this and it always turns to an incredulous “Does this really move the needle for people?”

What we mean by that is: Are people actually that upset about this topic that in no way affects their lives? Or is it fake outrage?

The two of us are fairly calm and generally cynical people, but we also come from different backgrounds with different worldviews. And we still can look at a majority of trending topics and issues with a jaded sigh.

One of my least favorite headline formulas is this: “This Event JUST Happened, And Everyone Is [Extreme Reaction]”. If the event just happened, how do we know how everyone is reacting? I mean, don’t people get some time to think before reacting? Or did the event not “JUST” happen? Either way, the headline points to two things the internet and social media really love: timeliness and overreaction. You know why the author of a piece like that can say everyone is “losing their minds” or “PISSED” or some other extreme term? Because the people who care the most about something are the ones that are posting on Twitter and Facebook about it. 99% of people who witnessed something can see it and have a range of reactions, but we only see the 1% who decided to get on Twitter and rant or rave. And when a lazy writer wants to write something quick about how people are reacting to an event, they hop on Twitter and find 3-4 people with really extreme tweets and then declare that the majority opinion.

Here’s a fake headline I just wrote for no reason: “Most People Think Jeb(!) Bush Is A Murderer”
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Now, do a majority of Americans think Jeb Bush is a murderer? No. Is there even a context for that? Nope. I just typed in those words in the Twitter search bar and found some tweets that kind of lined up with my premise that a majority of Americans think Jeb Bush is a murderer.

Now, all I would have to do is publish that story with that headline and sit back. People would come out on both sides. The Blaze would hop in pointing out that he is, in fact, not a murderer. Slate would hit us with the “Actually, Jeb Bush Is A Murderer”. Then The Daily Wire would say something like “They Accused Jeb Bush Of Murder, Watch Him Massacre Their Arguments” (it’s just a video of Jeb, looking like he walked into a party he wasn’t invited to and saying “I’m not a murderer”).

Next you’d get the BEATDOWN OF A LIFETIME from Trevor Noah as he takes a barely comical stance on the issue while diverting it to something about how Jeb is a Republican, and therefore kinda, sorta, a murderer. This would spawn stories on every site about the SAVAGE EVISCERATION of Jeb Bush by The Daily Show despite the fact that it’s really not that good, or accurate, or funny. Of course, between all of this you’d get blogs on both sides pointing out how dumb this is, but that will be lost in the shuffle.

By the end of the week it will all sort of die down, and you’ll go on with your weekend plans. Then, John Oliver will show up on HBO and tell you what you should be mad about this week. Now, you won’t watch it live because either you don’t have HBO or you don’t care about watching his show. You can just see the important clips on Monday. You’ll definitely hear about what he says because every news site reports what he says like it’s the first time anyone has ever had the opinions that he’s had. He may or may not talk about Jeb being a murderer, but whatever he talks about will be what liberals and the general internet will be very upset about on Monday morning. It doesn’t matter if the topic is transgender rights, which is something many people on the internet care very deeply about, or the US highway infrastructure, which is not exactly moving the needle for most. If John Oliver says we should be upset about it, by God we are going to be upset about it on Monday. If John doesn’t want to talk about Jeb, then on Monday we will all forget about Jeb not being a murderer. But it won’t matter, all that will be remembered is that we spent some time debating whether Jeb was a murderer. Now those two words are in your head together.

The goal of the initial piece has been accomplished.

That was a stupid example, but the point is this: Don’t let the internet or trending topics be the only thing you talk about or care about. You’ve been told to care about it by someone that you don’t know whose only job is to influence you one way or another so you will click on their site. If you’re a Christian, don’t get riled up by a “pastor” on the internet who you don’t know. If you’re a liberal, don’t just care about whatever John, or Trevor, or Larry Wilmore tell you to care about. Form your own opinions.

I created a simple, three step process for dealing with trending arguments on social media:

  1. See that people are supposedly upset about something
  2. Remember that it probably doesn’t actually matter and doesn’t affect your life
  3. Go on with your day

Yeah, I know I just wrote a bunch about something that doesn’t actually matter and doesn’t affect my life. But hey, I’m one of those writers out there to influence you so you’ll click on my site.


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