#Ferguson Problems: How Social Media Mangles Critical Thinking

//by Ryan Taylor//

TL;DR: Twitter destroys the integrity of discourse and reinforces cheap appeals to ideology.

Although what’s going on in Ferguson right now is incredibly problematic––not to mention: despicable (also: alarming, infuriating, insulting)––the social media explosion that preceded (and which continues to comment on) the Michael Brown case is symptomatic of another problem, that is: the dramatic lowering of the bar for what constitutes legitimate political discourse.

Our soundbite news culture, exacerbated by Twitter’s 140-character format, has been disturbingly successful in its ongoing replacement of more traditional modes of dialogue. Modes of dialogue which, not viral in any sense of the word, share as a foundation a rigorous analysis.

Before critically examining any of the evidence in the Mike Brown case, I admit I was ready to condemn the police (and all police) in much the same way the Twittersphere and my own Facebook News Feed™ has done. Based on my own political lean, I consumed and dispersed a narrative that appealed to me despite a lack of substantiated evidence therein.

After taking some time to read up and think about the case, my perception of the incident has completely changed.

What’s problematic is not the quickness with which my opinion was able to change, but the quickness with which it was first formed.twitter_evil

Ideology led me to conclude that the Michael Brown case was just another example of institutionalized racism and fetishized violence coming to a head, á la George Zimmerman. Twitter confirmed my conclusion, muddling and mincing the facts.

While the actions Officer Wilson took are inexcusable, even idiotic, the way he has been represented in this case as a ‘cold blooded killer’ is probably disingenuous. Trigger-happy yokel? Yeah. Racist? Very likely. Cold blooded killer? I don’t know the man that well.

To the point: ideology will always play a role in human judgments––this much is certain––but that doesn’t mean we should not be critical of ideology and the mediums through which it influences us.

Now, this post is incredibly ironic, given that its thesis concerns the impotence of social media platforms (like the one I’m using right now) to be politically productive or rigorously composed. This post is certainly neither. But that doesn’t preclude me from pointing to a growing problem: the disavowal of reasoned argument in favor of the easy-to-consume rhetoric of social media.

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