How to Find a Skunk

Philosophy, Politics, Religion

Skunk

During the height of his steroids scandal, a reporter asked pitcher Roger Clemens about his opinion on those who accused him of juicing. His response was a quote from his mother.

“Never get into a pissing contest with a skunk.”

This is pretty good advice, especially when it comes to social media. In the past couple days I’ve found myself soaked quite a bit in skunk urine thanks to the discussions surrounding duck caller Phil Robertson. In case you haven’t heard he made some ill-advised comments about the lives of African Americans prior to the Civil Rights movement and the sexual effect of a woman’s vagina vs. a man’s anus. Like many of the great debates in our time, the intellectual back and forth has been aired out on Twitter and Facebook.

Most of the time when there’s a controversial news topic, I shy away from the online bickering. I once lost a friend (well on Facebook anyway) about the Trayvon Martin shooting. When I do venture into a hyped discussion, I try to keep my opinions on topic and usually I stick to it.

Couple of things I’ve learned about social media squabbles 1) you never change anyone’s opinion about the subject matter and 2) you never feel better after unleashing your view on said subject matter.

My  latest foray into online debate centered on Robertson’s incendiary comments and how 1) he was entitled to make them, 2) A&E was entitled to kick him off the air, 3) Biblical edicts are sometimes relative (i.e. slavery, bacon, gays, etc.) and 4) I have a poor habit of “selective reading” as one of my friend’s friends put it.

I had a long night answering comments from people who claim 1) that Christianity is under attack,  2) that my education is inadequate, 3) that Muslims have free speech which Christians don’t, 4) that my remarks really miss the point, etc. etc. etc. etc. Luckily I think I survived the night with most of my friends and followers lists intact.

I knew what I was getting into but I just couldn’t help myself. Why do I, and others for that matter, feel the need to argue even when they know they can’t win? For me, I guess there’s this hope that maybe I can at least get others to see a different point of view. Their personal stance may not change but they’ll broaden their perspective. Hopefully.

This never happens. Ever.

I think that social media and the Internet in general fuels people’s sense of self-importance. Maybe because we feel that we can broadcast our opinions to the entire world in an instant it somehow gives those opinions some sort of credence. It’s particularly enticing when you know that your message is concentrated to people you know. (Only egomaniacs spout their opinions for everyone on a blog.)

Unfortunately though, online “debates” usually become nothing but a bunch of people sharing opinions that everyone already knows. No one becomes educated or enlightened. It just turns into a digital yelling match and the volume of your voice does not make you right. (Except for me. I’m always right.)

Word of advice though, when you see a skunk, turn around. Walking away doesn’t mean the skunk is right about gay marriage.

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I am Ryan Laza

Philosophy

virus half

(this first appeared on Medium.com)

One of the things I can’t stand to hear is the term “going viral” or some other variant that includes “went” and “gone.” It’s like some form of communication materializes into a virus and jumps from one poor sap to another, infecting them with a nonstop reel of cat videos.

Most of the time, it’s a harmless vid of babies doing baby things or some overly exuberant stuntman wannabe lighting himself on fire. Sometimes though, it becomes a bad side effect of crowd sleuthing and an increasingly slipshod media.

When Adam Lanza walked into Sandy Hook Elementary and slaughtered innocent children, social media users and eventually news outlets pointed to his brother’s Facebook page, saying it was the killer’s page.

Ryan had to defend himself and, ironically, used social media to explain to people that it wasn’t him.

It’s no secret, traditional media, and subsequently social media, are more bent on getting something first rather than waiting and getting it right. It’s better to correct it later than get it after everyone else.

After the Boston Marathon bombing, the New York Post tried to label an innocent Saudi man as a suspect. Social media and sites like Reddit immediately put the word out. The word was wrong though.

Police later sent out Tweets saying that wasn’t true.

You have to wonder, who beget who? Did social media create the intense pressure to get something first or did that pressure (and it’s ensuing errors) drive social media to find the truth? It’s a growing dilemma.

Under the wrong circumstances, crowd sleuthing may eventually create a dangerous witch hunt.

Social media can definitely help though. Just ask the FBI. After they released photos of Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, they got floods of tips from the social media universe which ultimately helped them ID the brothers. This is all nice and good.

The problem with social media and its viral brethren is the same problem we have with actual viruses. When information is wrong, it gets spread as truth and it’s hard to correct.

Hopefully over time, we’ll learn the optimal way to use social media when police are looking for a suspect. I think we’re already getting there in some form. Whenever that Saudi national was ruled out as a suspect in the Boston bombing, Reddit users were quick to echo the news.

Maybe we’re learning that we need vaccines against viral speculation.