By now you’ll have seen the video of the young white man staring down the older Native American man. It doesn’t need any more analysis here. (Not least because I, like you, have no real idea what happened.)
I’m going to keep the below paragraph to hand – it’s an almost perfect encapsulation of the major problem we have with the online outrage cycle. The Atlantic:
The story is a Rorschach test—tell me how you first reacted, and I can probably tell where you live, who you voted for in 2016 and your general take on a list of other issues—but it shouldn’t be. Take away the video and tell me why millions of people cared so much about an obnoxious group of high-school students protesting legalized abortion and a small circle of Native Americans protesting centuries of mistreatment who were briefly locked in a tense standoff. Take away Twitter and Facebook and explain why total strangers cared so much about people they didn’t know in a confrontation they didn’t witness. Why are we all so primed for outrage, and what if the thousands of words and countless hours spent on this had been directed toward something consequential?
My new rule with aggro online is to ask myself: would my input achieve anything?
The answer has, so far, always been no.
There has been more than a little soul searching about this today. From NYT writer David Brooks:
Yesterday I had one impression of the maga kids from Kentucky. Now after seeing more videos I have a different more complicated impression. Makes all the hot takes seem silly.
— David Brooks (@nytdavidbrooks) January 20, 2019
There is also a bigger lesson to be drawn from this. Social media mobs are a cancer on this country, and those in the news business have an obligation not to carelessly magnify malignant efforts at personal destruction. This affects all of us. It does not matter who you are, whether you are active online, care about politics, or keep to yourself. The social justice mob may come for you, your spouse or your child, and engage in a ritualistic destruction of their online reputation. Even a trip to the Lincoln Memorial for high school kids can be turned into something catastrophic.