Leaving The Herd

You come upon a car that is upside down in the ditch. There’s a dead deer in the road. You get out and there are still people in the car. 

Would you check social media in order to figure out what to do next? 

There’s photos of people who have just been bitten by venomous snakes on FB, shortly after the bite, who are asking for advice. 

Or maybe there isn’t. Maybe they found the photo, and are just trying to get a reaction out of people.

Back eleven years ago, or so, when I first started posting on FB, there would be days I wouldn’t check to see what had happened. Once or twice a week, for a few minutes were fine. Slowly, but surely, more and more time was invested, and more and more people were added to the list of people I was connected to on FB. 

The real problem was it was happening to a lot of people all across the nation. Twitter came along, and thought process was linked to brevity. You could only express yourself in a very limited space, and people adapted their thought patterns to this. 

It didn’t take long for advertisers to realize they could tap into social media like drilling for oil. If an acceptable stimulus was offered, people would react in a very predictable manner. This reaction didn’t have to be based on rational thought or logic. In fact, the more irrational the reaction the stronger it would be. You could sell anything to many people, and you might be able to sell everything to everyone. 

The idea that social media was the guide to reaction was sold, and bought, by millions of people. 

Somewhere out there, in the land of both television and social media, and the two are a potent mix, a woman named Carole Baskin was accused of murdering her husband by a drug addict who is in prison. I never watched the show, but Facebook was alight with the unsupported supposition that this woman had committed murder. A television show that featured a drug addict who was in prison ruined this woman’s reputation with half truths and half lies. To this day millions of people believe what they saw on the show, or read on social media, with not one shred of evidence considered. 

The fictional car wreck at the beginning, did you theorize the car had hit the deer and wrecked? Given no evidence or pieces of the story to support that thought, would you have told someone you thought that was what happened? Would you have taken photos of the wreck and posted them on social media, because I can tell you, that is what people do. 

I worked a wreck on the Interstate back in 2010. We opened one lane next to the wreck and nearly every car that passed the wreck had an arm stuck out, with a cell phone held aloft, getting either photos or video of the dying man’s last moments on earth. 

If you will admit that social media causes a strange form of group reaction, like a flock of birds flying out of a tree when startled, will you admit that this could happen to you? Would you admit that something you’ve read on social media might guide you in a direction of thought, not based on real evidence, but based on the fact that people you are connected to are flying off in the same direction? 

If it was not easy, and if it was not profitable to manipulate people on social media the people who own and control what you read and see on social media would not be incredibly rich. The people who own and control social media sell not only your personal information to the highest bidder, they also sell the ability to manipulate your reactions to the highest bidder, and they do so with complete disregard as to the dangers that are inherit to so many people being manipulated by governments, or corporations, whose intents are not questioned. 

It’s possible that the car swerved to miss the deer in the road, and then wrecked. 

Think about how you reacted to the story of the deer and the car. Did you have some idea of what had happened once you read it? The car hit the deer and wrecked. Was that your thought? How did you react to the idea what you thought might have been wrong? 

It’s more likely that the car hit the deer then wrecked, right? 

But this is fiction. Aliens might have been involved. Carole Baskin’s husband might still be alive. There’s no way you have enough information about the fictional car or Mr. Baskin to draw a conclusion, but many, many people have, and it’s purely fictional. 

But given enough support to fiction, people react to it as if it is fact. 

“A lie told often enough becomes the truth”- Joseph Goebbels

But Goebbels never said that. It’s one of those things everyone has heard, but no one can ever track down when he said it and where he said it and to whom he was speaking. You’ve always believed it, but it’s never really been verified. 

Clearly, very clearly, if information, or disinformation is repeated, or reposted, often enough then enough people will believe it, and they will pass it on. The herd grows larger, and as the crowd gets bigger, there are those within that group who become more aggressive in their beliefs. It becomes nearly a religious thing. To question the information is to question God.

How do you think Trump got elected, and by whom? 

Most people in power are early risers. They get to the office before anyone else. Putin gets to his office about six in the morning. Trump late night tweets coincide with Putin’s early morning office hours. 

None of that is true. Not a word of it, except the time differences match. But had I posted in on social media it would have been passed around like a lit joint at Woodstock.

Both theories are very valid, however. Trump was elected by his presence on social media and his ability to reach a target audience and manipulate that audience. To disagree with Trump is to be met with anything but reason. 

At the same time, the theory that Trump is owned by Putin is also a social media thing. Recent revelations by the bipartisan committee without the United States Government give more credence to this theory than most thought possible. 

At some point, rational people have to leave social media. We have to step away from the people who think the deer was an alien and the car was zapped by a death ray. We have to return to critical thinking, researching reputable sources that have been peer reviewed. We have to stop passing on information we do not know is true. We have to learn to disagree without hatred or personal feelings towards disagreement. We have to elect leaders who believe that science is the correct guide to action, not Twitter. 

The fate of this nation hangs in the balance these days. Without an adherence to truth, facts, and reason, most certainly we will be lost. A country whose people are hesitant, waiting for some cue from the larger group, and looking for leadership in a Tweet, are going to be easily led in whatever direction the highest bidder decides. 

Take Care,

Mike