Fighting antisocial media

Doug McMurdo

I was talking to a local businessman the other day about politics. We didn’t agree on much, but we were respectful of one another, unlike a couple of his customers.

Both locals in their late 60s, the men were talking about President Donald Trump in a mostly friendly manner for about 7.2 seconds. One was a devout fan. One was not.

The conversation quickly devolved. One man said he despised Trump and so do all his neighbors. The other man said he would bring him a MAGA hat to anger those neighbors. The first man said he wouldn’t wipe his, er, “donkey” with a MAGA hat and that’s when things got nasty.

My friend kicked them both out of his shop and figures it was worth losing whatever money from any potential transactions.

After he finished telling me about his experience, and fully understanding we were on opposite sides of the aisle, I decided to change the subject and asked him what he was reading these days.

Turns out, he’s a fan of historical fiction, as am I. Turns out, he’s reading a now obscure series of novels on the Napoleonic wars of the late 1700s and early 1800s. Turns out, I’m reading the same series.

They aren’t best sellers. The final book was published in 2007. Oprah isn’t saying the series is a must read and no critic has penned a single sentence about it in years, but here we were, finding out we had a unique and common interest that erased any need to tiptoe around the great partisan chasm that has infected the country.

This divide is not healthy. Debate is healthy. Dissent is healthy when it doesn’t involve bullets. Screaming is not healthy. Threats and insults are not healthy. Spreading fear is not healthy. Spewing disinformation like lava flowing from a volcano – what we used to call lies – is definitely not healthy.

It seems we have lost our way and much of the blame can be placed at the feet of professional politicians who deliberately keep us separated and pontificating pundits who use their platforms as bully pulpits.

I see two ways out of this mess, but it’s going to take a team effort on both counts, which is something else we’ve lost. The first thing I would do is convince everyone it would be in their best interest to shut down their social media accounts. Me included. I’ve been known to be a real, er, donkey on social media.

The second thing I would do is convince everyone to quit watching basic cable “news” networks.

Those folks aren’t journalists. They’re propagandists.

We are living in an astounding age. We have at our fingertips the combined knowledge of all humankind. The internet is the miracle of my lifetime and probably yours, with the possible exception of the moon landing, yet all of its promise has been minimized.

Finding facts used to be easy. Now they’re like looking for a needle in a stack of needles. The internet exposed a glaring weakness in the human psyche: We actively or subconsciously look for information that validates our worldview. And they are exploiting that weakness.

It is in all of us, regardless of political persuasion.

We get angry on the internet and we don’t hesitate to write harmful words or get a laugh at the expense of someone else. We say things we would never say to anyone in the real world. There’s a line between the cyber world and the real world, where words carry much more weight and a punch in the nose is a distinct possibility. It’s been my experience people are kinder when a punch in the nose is a distinct possibility.

But that line is being crossed more and more and the politicians and pundits could not be more pleased.

Those two men my friend had to endure in his place of business are on social media. I know because I checked. They crossed that line when they refused to avoid a discussion both knew was going to end badly. They crossed that line when their childish attitudes made other customers uncomfortable. They crossed that line when they decided they were not going to treat others as they would like to be treated.

I myself hope to put a stop to my social media battles – most are with high school classmates from more than 40 years ago – and I will eventually shut down my accounts in order to make that happen.

In the meantime, I look forward to discussing the Napoleonic wars with my friend. Beats the heck out of trading insults and ruining friendships.