I can’t help myself. I try to stop, knowing that it will end badly. It’s unhealthy, unproductive and disheartening. It makes me crazy.
And yet — I find myself reluctantly drawn into social media comment strings because I can’t not look. I know there’s no greater waste of time than getting wound up over the inanity, the misinformation, the meanness, the ignorance and arrogance, the bitter arguments and insults, the threats and intimations, the pointlessness of it all. Are there well-meaning people genuinely hoping to communicate, to pass along useful information, to contribute to the good of the community? Yes, indeed there are, and thank goodness for them. But they are often drowned out and driven off by the nasty troll community, which I think the Justice Department should categorize as a hate group.
I saw a Facebook posting the other day that, paraphrasing, went something like this: Fifty years ago, no one would have believed me if I told them there someday would be a handheld device that connects us to all the information available to mankind, and most people would use it to look at cat pictures and argue with strangers. That’s the kind of thing you can respond to with a smiley-face emoji and move on, knowing that there’s some truth to it.
In the social media arena, I’ve pretty much stopped engaging in anything other than banter with friends or occasionally answering a question from an online reader. I rarely pass along links (except to Methow Valley News stories) or try to rebut someone’s misguided assertion.
Try as I might, however, I can’t stay entirely away from the online chatter. Sometimes I’m pleasantly surprised, sometimes I tip over into crazy. And sometimes I’m just plain baffled, like when I read a recent comment on the Methow Valley News Facebook page, attached to a posting about COVID vaccination levels. Someone added a comment asking why the news media never write about all the people who do not die of COVID.
I want to believe it was sarcasm, like the headline of a story that might appear on the Onion website: “Millions of Americans remain alive amid pandemic.” Or, “Rest of world survives Titanic sinking.” You have to be kidding, right? Because if not, it’s a bizarre comment, especially considering that more than 600,000 Americans have died from COVID, which is probably an undercount, and the virus is still claiming victims.
The media do write about people who don’t die from COVID. They’re called “vaccinated.” They also write about people who endured a horrific bout of coronavirus and somehow survived — some of them with long-term effects. They write about how new COVID patients, by most estimates about 98% of them unvaccinated, are again clogging hospitals and straining the health care system, and about how anti-vaxxers and anti-mask people have turned confrontational, angry and sometimes violent. Vaccinated people are not screaming at business owners, punching flight attendants, attacking teachers and health care workers, or threatening public officials with harm.
But do the media write or broadcast stories about how many people are not killed each year in plane crashes and auto accidents? Or how many people don’t die from gunshot wounds? How many don’t succumb to cancer? How many did not perish in skydiving mishaps? No, because that would be all of us who are currently alive, although one of those fates might eventually befall us. Then we become, in the aggregate, meaningful statistics.
Even what should be the most innocuous story can sometimes get caught in a strange crossfire, like our Facebook post last week about the free air purifier giveaway in Winthrop. Is there a better feel-good story than that?
Mostly the comments were appreciative and grateful — but interspersed with occasional sniping and misinformation, some of which could have been avoided by the simple expedient of actually reading the news story. I guess no good deed stays un-viral.
I suspect that nearly two years of living with the constant tension of COVID has made some of us cranky, touchy, less-tolerant of vacuous debate when the facts are in evidence. We endure a barrage of lies about COVID, about global warming, about the 2020 election, about the traitorous assault on our nation’s capitol, and we either feel compelled to respond — or turn away in despair that truth has no currency among a large part of the population. But to abandon the field is to let dishonesty win.
So I can’t guarantee that I won’t get sucked in again, with the firm belief that truth will win out. It’s our only hope.