I was a total asshole to some strangers on Facebook

I was a total asshole to some strangers on Facebook today. I raged. I had science on my side. My first few comments began with a gentle presentation of data on the topic at hand. My friend who had posted the incredulous article considers himself an educated man. He would surely want to know that he’s mistaken, right? I linked to peer-reviewed studies. The charts were beautiful and informative. The writing was clear, crisp, and sourced. Still, within seconds people I had never met began contesting the validity of my sources.

 I must be interacting with some speedy readers, I thought. My fellow commenters informed me that they already knew the “truth” and didn’t need to read the studies. They had their own. Mine were propaganda. I was “brainwashed.” I was in fact but a “sheeple” in the eyes of the enlightened masses huddling in Facebook comment threads. Following the news of my new place in the taxonomy of man and mutton, a link to a blog post featuring one of their “studies” was shared.

At last! The evidence I longed for. I was ready for enlightenment. No longer would I be a sheeple! I clicked the link to a site named something along the lines of____truth.org – a sure sign of its legitimacy. After a glance at a personal blog featuring a couple testimonies and a link to a study long disproven, instead of calling bullshit, I presented the pros and cons of peer review. Perhaps that’s where the confusion is. Not everyone is a trained researcher. I get that. It can be difficult to know a good source from a bad one in the vast expanses of bullshit on the Internet. With that in mind, I figured it would be best to respond reasonably since the topic was of importance to me. At least that’s how I justified spending time engaged in a debate with visceral strangers on Facebook. 

As I expected, my attempts at cordial discourse were met with venomous personal attacks. I tried to bring the conversation back by using pure logic to make my point. I was then told to go “fuck myself.” That’s when I snapped.

I had recently posted an article on my Facebook page asking if it’s better to address science denial with kindness or anger. I’m prone to say kindness. It keeps the door open lends itself to intellectual credibility. However, occasionally that’s just a delusion. The door was already closed. I was duped by common courtesy to think this exchange was ever a dialogue. Instead, it’s like I stumbled into a bar and tried to converse with a couple shaky-handed alcoholics hell bent on leveling brazen monosyllabic insults at anyone who lets light trickle in from the door. 

I dropped a few of my favorite expletives. I figured if I’m going to stoop to such behavior, I best do it well. I let the douchbags know what I thought of ‘em. After all, they’re everything wrong with the contemporary world in which sound bites and opinions are championed alongside facts and scientific consensus. Of course, that's surely what they thought of me. 

After a couple rants, I felt damn virtuous. That lasted about 15 minutes. A tinge of guilt soon trickled through my chest. I started thinking about the repercussions of online permanence that I’ve seen come back and bite people in the ass years later. But that feeling only lasted a couple breaths. The next stage was relief. I had taken out my frustration with the loss of rationality that plagues the contemporary world; it felt great.

While my credulity was pitched to the wayside, I finally understood how social media fuels an addiction to unadulterated rage. While some people my not have facts, they’re scared and yet equally self-righteous; social media has changed the world; it’s changing how we act towards one another; how we perceive the value of information more intrinsically tied to our own desires than reality. Often madness gets the upper hand. For better or worse social media can reduce all of us to sound bites. It’s probably best to not feed the trolls. When you do, it’s helpful to admit that in our digital age some people really enjoy being assholes and the reason they do is because they're convinced that you are a bigger one.    

 

Deric Mendes is the publisher and editor of Bold Type Magazine. His work has been featured in The Nation, the North Coast Journal, and other more dubious publications. After reporting from the Middle East, he's currently in production on a documentary about Syrian Americans during this time of conflict. 

Follow Deric on twitter: @dericmendes