To Act, or Not to Act On Social Media

A few days ago, The Atlantic posted a video showing an audience of two-hundred or so reacting fervently, some with Nazi salutes, when Richard Spencer came on stage and proclaimed, “Hail Trump, hail our people, hail victory!” Spencer is a leading figure in a movement with white-nationalist elements, which he successfully branded as the “alt-right.”

This is, of course, reprehensible; of that there can be no doubt. But what to make of it or, better yet, what to do about it? How to respond? I do not ask that in the abstract, for in the abstract, there are numerous possibilities. I ask it concretely of myself. Or you may ask it concretely of yourself. In my particular circumstances, or in yours, what is to be done in response?

In my particular situation, removed from the event in time and space, having no association with any of the assembled participants, what am I to do?

That question suggests another pair of related questions: why should I do anything at all? Why should I feel compelled to do something?

I ask these questions in a continuing effort to think through, as so many others are attempting to do, the relationship between digital media and the public sphere, particularly in its ethical and political dimensions.

I stress the particularity of my situation and yours with Kierkegaard’s understanding of the Press and the Public in mind. The Public is an effect of the Press. The Press, that is the media, by its “massive distribution of desituated information,” in Hubert Dreyfus’ words, constitutes an audience of “detached spectators.” These detached spectators have no real or meaningful connection to the events they read about.

The intriguing thing about Kierkegaard’s diagnosis is that he imagined that the detached spectator would be bloodless and indolent, desiring nothing more than to be entertained by having something to gossip about. There is a good deal of truth to this, no doubt. But what accounts for the impulse felt by many, myself included, to do something when confronted with a piece of news?

Of course, the specific nature of Spencer’s comments, especially given our political moment, explains why this case may elicit strong feelings and the urge to respond. We’ve heard the old line about how evil triumphs when good people to do nothing, and here’s our chance to do something and prove ourselves good people. In fact, if we query our own feelings a little more closely, we may even find that we are deriving not a little pleasure from doing something to fight the fascists. What we get is a little rush of emotion and a fleeting sense moral superiority, a taste virtuous, noble action in an otherwise mundane and uneventful experience characterized by carefully maintained air of ironic detachment.

But what does action amount to when we nevertheless remain, as Kierkegaard suggested, desituated and detached spectators of events that are not materially connected to us? To be clear, I am not suggesting that there are no cases when we may be materially connected to instances of racism or anti-Semitism. In such cases, our actions may take a variety of forms as dictated by the circumstances and our moral fortitude. But that is not the case here, at least not for me or countless others watching this video online. So what does action look like for us in relation to this one specific case?

More often than not the shape our action will take is a social media post condemning Mr. Spencer and his words. I was tempted to do the same. But I hesitated. I hesitated because it seemed to me not only that I would be doing very little of consequence; that what I was, in fact, doing may be little more than signaling my virtue; and, most importantly, that what I was doing may very well be counterproductive.

It would be counterproductive because of the particular nature of our media environment or our attention economy. I’ve long thought that our best response to certain provocations is to maintain radio silence. If we are nodes in a network of communication and if a message is successful not to the degree that it is either true or good but only to the degree that it continues to exist in the network, then the best I can do is to kill the message in my little corner of the network by remaining silent. In other words, if what people want is attention because somehow attention is their path to influence, if even my outrage and moral indignation is fuel for their fire, then denying them that attention seems the most reasonable and practical course of action.

Let me try to sum up where this meandering line of thought has brought me. In continuity with older forms of mass media, social media constitutes a desituated audience of detached spectators. However, unlike older forms of mass media, social media does not render us passive spectators–it invites action on our part. But the action it invites is action that feeds and empowers the network. We feel as if we are doing something, but the thing we’re actually accomplishing is rarely the virtuous thing we think we’re accomplishing. What we’re undoubtedly doing is sustaining the network. And the network itself is often the source of the problems we think we’re combatting.

Returning to Kierkegaard, he observed the following:

The public has a dog for its amusement. That dog is the Media. If there is someone better than the public, someone who distinguishes himself, the public sets the dog on him and all the amusement begins. This biting dog tears up his coat-tails, and takes all sort of vulgar liberties with his leg–until the public bores of it all and calls the dog off. That is how the public levels.

Our situation, in the age of social media, appears to be a bit different. The public has itself become the dog and what has been leveled is what we used to quaintly call the truth.

All of the preceding I offer to you, as per usual, in the spirit of thinking out loud. Feel free to tell me just how I may have gone wrong.

110 thoughts on “To Act, or Not to Act On Social Media

  1. Yes, it really is hard to contribute to social media without some sense that more ugliness may induced by one’s contribution than clarity achieved. I try to have a policy that if I pass on a link to an article, I have read that article well, and I am prepared to discuss it with others. Unfortunately, I find myself to often not following this policy. One needs to continue to carve out one’s own corners of peace and sanity online, so that facts and rhetoric can be examined rather than treated like hot potatoes.

  2. I have followed the Frailest Thing for many years, but I have never commented before. But this post struck me.

    Two thoughts:

    1. I admit. I wrote out a long response in my personal journal last night regarding the legality of flag burning, after reading a “tweet” suggesting that those who burn the flag should lose their citizenship. To sum it up, it was about Patriotism, civil liberties, the use of social media by a world leader, the medias response, etc. I considered sharing my thoughts, but decided not too, for similar reasons stated here.

    2. I do not think media sensationalism makes all concerns irrational… after all some are rational and legitimate indeed. (Like antisemitism, in this instance) But the media sensationalism does make it difficult to talk about concerns on the internet rationally. Cracking through cognitive dissonance and confirmation bias is so hard without a cup of coffee or a glass of wine. Then again maybe I am just growing cynical with age.

  3. I am often tempted and about half of the time I choose to stir the pot. Social issues such as the one mentioned in the post effect us all as Americans in some way indirectly. The media does tend to exploit anything that is divisive. My take is, what does it do to rant or post passionately if that is ALL you’re going to do. If you speak your peace, then, live your peace, walk in peace, talk in peace, be about unity in your ways. Many people who rant hate, are living it. It’s OK to post or take a stance in my opinion. You don’t have to return evil for evil. But, if posting on social media is your only form of action, what is the point?

    1. Hmmm you mean living a good life is the best revenge? I keep hearing that meme. It’s a thing to clam us all down so we drink the koolade. Making peace with racism, rape-culture, and tyranny, last time i checked was called complacency. It’s okay to feel angry. It’s not unloving to not shake hands with the pussy-grabber. Thanks for letting me say me “peace.”

      1. No, that’s not my point at all. My point is, why post if you don’t live it. Posting, even passionately, is useless if outside of a virtual world you do nothing. Also, you don’t have to take part in every fight you’re invited too. There is no reasoning with ignorance. If you’re not careful with your words, you only perpetuate it. When you do take it on, what is your primary goal, to fight fire with fire? Hopefully you use another element. I speak on what I want, when I choose. The wise speak when there’s something to say. Fools just try to say something…

        1. That’s not true. Freedom of Speech is pretty fundamental in shaping action. You need to revisit your rights and what you are willing to so easily toss in the trash bin. Some people, like Stephen Hawking do a lot of thinking… and they solve problems about the universe and human perspective in relation to the center of the universe, and that kind of speaking out informs many people who are able bodied to act more compassionately about things like climate change. Posting about this helps a lot. Ghandi said we don’t have to know the fruit of our labors, we just plant the seeds. (more or less that’s the quote) He was also about taking direct action, but we can remember his words and speak them to make history not just something to read and fall into silent despair over. It’s more useful than that. That’s why we need to protect public schools. This isn’t just “any fight” this is Donald Trump. This is about your democracy and how it’s been taken over and how far you are willing to let that go. If you choose to fall silent and give up now, and encourage others to not speak up and out, you don’t deserve your rights. The young people can’t vote and only have their voices. Sure they can volunteer and help out but they deserve voice. This is their future.
          I don’t have to fight fire with fire. I’m not suggesting revenge or burning democracy down further. To suggest that standing up to trump is the non peaceful or bitter response is just another brain wash. It’s okay to be angry. It’s okay to voice that. And if you make fun of Donald Trump like Alec Baldwin does, Donald turns into his own worst enemy. So undermine him.
          Sure pick your battles, but don’t silence those for others. Rape is serious. Racism is serious. Homophobia is serious. Reproductive Rights are human rights. so… okay? We clear?

          1. I for one am not now nor do I ever intend to silence anyone, including those that don’t agree with my views. That was never a statement that I made. I am not one to be silenced and I quite often practice my right of freedom of expression. Every example that you gave were of individuals who were about Much more than talk. Steven hawking lived sci

          2. Steven hawking lived science. Gandhi lived peace. These people were not simply social media rant and ravers. You or anyone else should feel free to speak as you please. Who am I to folks you. Again, my only point was that it shouldn’t end there. You do not have to agree with that. Every topic you’re bringing up are valid topics of issue. I teach youth in my community. I process these topics with them and teach them to be informed and take Action. Again, rants on social media don’t change my community. Action and teaching does. When youth understand how to discern ignorance and know what steps to take versus, just being angry and talking, the world changes. Talk is cheap. Or at least that’s what THEY say.

          3. Well, I don’t sit around blogging all day. This is my day off, oh Teacher of action. Is this about me now dropping my community service record or teaching resume on you? Really, we’re gonna THAT pissing contest? Being that you and I are both here talking, it seems you can take your own advice and go do something active. You’re a boss-man. You’re not a listener. That’s what I’ve learned about your teaching. And the best teachers listen. Good luck with your students.

          4. Steven hawking lived science. Gandhi lived peace. These people were not simply social media rant and ravers. Some folks directly go around being negative and insulting simply looking for a debate and accomplishing nothing. You win. Much peace to you! ✌

          5. I win what? Never mind the labels. Never mind your target. Put that aside for a moment. You can not afford to let go of the online ground. Remaining silent and only speaking to the choir gets you a practiced song. It’s not about futile battling with a ranter, altho I’ve been there and done that… and it was GREAT for my learning and growth after I got over the bullying. It taught me sooooo much about who Trump voters are and the range of people because they do have a range and are not all from the coal country. I got battered around sometimes, but so what? Now I’m unafraid and I know who I am fighting and for what and why and where they are limited and where they should be denounced on line in view of all. It’s good to keep women allowed on the you tube sites. It’s good to take action where the rants are. Of course not all of them matter. And there are larger actions to take… but your judgement isn’t helpful of the ranters.
            I agree with you about taking action, and this is good you are passionate about it. That’s a win for you. If it helps anyone else… well awesome they took up the reigns and learned to help themselves and others. Cool beans you. ;)

          6. I have no desire to preach to choirs or have futile battles in virtual land. Often when you rant and rave, no one listens unless they agree with you. The purpose of communication is to send an intended message, if that message isn’t received, there goes your purpose. In many cases, communication requires tact. In others, no matter what you say, it wont be heard. I don’t believe you understood anything I said. It appears you’ve taken a small part of what I stated and you’ve pushed it way out of context. You’re going all over the place about things I never said. For the record, I am a Black Woman from coal country. I’ve dealt with racism and sexism very up close and personal all of my life. There hasn’t been a thing a debate or rant on social media has changed in my Reality. I control that quite fearlessly. No pity parties here. I stand my ground. I haven’t done as I stated I should by walking away. No matter the stance, Trump is the President elect…for now. No social media post will change that. Now, as a tool to collect like minds to promote change, Yes, for blowing hot air, no. We all have soapbox moments. I rather attempt Be the change i want to see. I’m not fighting anyone, yet. I’m observing, gathering, learning. Preserving. The only worthy opponent to ignorance is wisdom. I pray for it. You are my sister. If I offended you that wasn’t my intention. We can however, agree to disagree on the semantics. Peace to you.

          7. I thank you for your clarification. I think I did/do understand what you are saying and I think how you’re saying it to me now was very generous. You did not offend me. You don’t owe me an apology at all. You took the time to teach me about yourself and I feel honored by that (particularly now when tensions are made worse by Trump.)
            I (willingly) learned from hardcore spaces and ranters from many camps. Years ago I was kicked around on a blog by the military and their wives because I was speaking against rape in the military and speaking about post traumatic stress… which was and still is at an all time high, but they have policy of making sure you don’t report and if you do they go into “retribution” mode and the military law/court is not protective (maybe the way our Supreme Court will go without a fight). So Trump going for hard power and being the leader of rape-culture without caring about torture, using rape as a form of torture, and then minimizing it has me whistle-blowing where I do not “belong” sometimes and I don’t expect to change hearts and minds, and yet once in a while… there’s a crack or a dent. I’m not saying to stay there endlessly or futilely or that you should find it at all productive how I did or that you should do it since we have different reasons for why to do it or not. But I did eventually make contact with the soldier writing the blog and he admitted he wasn’t even aware of the abuse/trolls on me (even tho it was almost 100 comments) and he thought I was holding my own. He said I gave him the best traffic for his blog ever and thanked me. Once he realized how it was harming me, he apologized… which I didn’t expect…and even though it wasn’t an enormous “win” to stop abuse in the military families, he was and is trying to make the soldiers understand the civilians better so we don’t “trigger” abuse or trauma, etc.
            I don’t plunge into just any rant or space… and I don’t twitter, or facebook, or snapchat… I believe the virtual reality forums can be addictive and cause depression… so to your point, yes, be the change you want to see. Teach ’em to get up off their asses! Peace to you as well, and thanks for being patient.

  4. I think responding with positive messages on the issue may dispel the negative attitudes? For example, there were various ‘hate’ messages about women wearing headscarves and hijabs and the response was to show strong independent courageous women who chose to wear it for personal reasons and were not forced to.
    The other example was the sexist comment about womens place in science and the response to that was a frenzy of positive images from female scientists around the world in labs, having fun at work.
    I think a positive, powerful and peaceful response is better than no response at all.

    1. Aw well, Zara…The Victoria Secret models are making bigger news, darlin’. There is nothing negative about talking about what is wrong “with this picture”. You don’t heal by ignoring trauma. The LGTBQ communities know “silence equals death.” Maybe take notes before you get rolled under the bus too one day.

  5. I agree with you! I would love to think that if many people bombarded these social media abominations with positive messages, that it would somehow deter the vitriol, but it does not. No matter what comments are written, there will be at least as many ignorant responses that do nothing but fuel the fire and leave the commenter feeling worse than the original post. My strategy is to completely ignore those posts that I find offensive, horrifying, etc., and try to keep my own posts, and day to day actions, reflective of the positive, open minded, inclusiveness that I wish to see in the world. Idealistic? Probably. But I feel a lot better in the day to day, and the people around me or connected to me through social media, have one less person adding negativity to their lives or social media feeds.

  6. Your writing really spoke to me as this issue has been front and center for me this election cycle. I am 56 years of age and truly don’t remember a time when so many people I thought I knew have left me feeling like the odd man out. I did not vote like they did because I could not set aside or pretend like I didn’t understand what I heard. I basically ran away from social media after realizing that I was spitting in the wind. Neighbors with their yard signs were basically advertising that they were proud of their decision to pretend they didn’t hear or didn’t care, or worse, agreed with the open expressions of a low minded and morally reprehensible representation of what America has become. I am constantly amazed by the ignorance level of so many of my fellow citizens. I posted on FB that my Jewish step grandfather and my East German mother made me especially fearful of the kind of politics we are now going to live under. I believe we can expect to be considered a facist nation at this point in time. With that fact in mind, it is probably prudent to keep a low profile or just disappear from social media. It seems the dark days of keeping your head down and your mouth shut are back.

    1. You didn’t VOTE!????? aw man… so you really didn’t learn from Hitler. It just made it scarier for you. This is NOT the time to allow democracy to be taken over. From what you describe it’s the opposite.

        1. Appreciate you clarified that. I apologize for being careless in my reading. Throwing a vote away during this election makes sense in an ideological way for a lot of folks but not a practical one no matter what people thought of Hillary or Sanders. I am disappointed Bernie is willing to work on so much with Donald and thinks it’s possible to compromise at this point with a madman who was mentored by Roy Cohn of all people. Bernie’s new book about revolution being sold now feels disingenuous.

        1. Hi Ladytappe, Michael Sacasas originally replied to me about the correction and I wrote this to him: Appreciate you clarified that. I apologize for being careless in my reading. Throwing a vote away during this election makes sense in an ideological way for a lot of folks but not a practical one no matter what people thought of Hillary or Sanders. I am disappointed Bernie is willing to work on so much with Donald and thinks it’s possible to compromise at this point with a madman who was mentored by Roy Cohn of all people. Bernie’s new book about revolution being sold now feels disingenuous.

          The thread got a bit mixed up.

          1. No worries, I am just relieved to know that others are as on edge as I am and paying close attention to what is happening to the US. Perhaps if we play our part and get people to seek their answers based on reality, we can help to offset the damage being done to our collective lives. The ignorant and misguided must be educated so that they don’t continue to override common sense and common decency. The mob that elected Trump to lead all of us must surely have made their choice based on false information. How any decent person can honestly say that Trump will be good for this country, absolutely mystifies me. Maybe the Electoral college will do the right and honorable thing and save us all from a Trump presidency. One can still dream.

          2. I agree with a lot of what you said. However, We didn’t elect him. The electoral college was constructed in the 1700’s to protect slave owners. So it’s an outdated and inhumane part of our system and we need to actively dismantle it. The same people have been and are making sweat shops globally so we never truly ended slavery, we just placed it out of view. We need to recognize how Hillary did in fact win. How she was undermined and how networks like NBC helped elevate and make money on and from Trumps reality shows. He is connected to world wrestling and that’s network money. Now he wants to make the internet even more monopolized and is planning on deregulating the EPA with an oil man as head of it because he is a stock holder in the DAPL. Hillary got 2 and a half million more votes and Jill Stein etc. got some more so Trump only got 46% if in fact those computer tallies with no paper trails can be at all trusted. The people didn’t elect Trump. They don’t want him. He doesn’t represent our values. He stole it with a lot of brutal help. We have to protect our democracy now and make sure he doesn’t take office on Jan 1, at noon. We do not have to swallow this Koolade. We should not make peace with a tyrant. No one will see him as good for this country, if they actually allow him to continue. And if they do feel good about it, they are mentally ill and need help. The hype around him is greed and like you said ignorance, but it is also willing ignorance. Functioning “illiteracy.” It doesn’t care how we feel. It can not be reasoned with. It’s an over grown child with whims that if they are not curbed… well they become Trump. Sorry for going so “preachy” and I appreciate you clarifying you points to me.
            Dreams come true. Hope is a form of resistance.
            Thanks again Ladytappe. Peace to you.

          3. Peace to you also. I realize the EC does not cast it’s official vote until 12/16/16 and I am hoping that they will miraculously do what is best for our country and not let T rump in on 1/20/17. Maybe I am just dreaming that those that make up the EC will see the writing on the wall and follow their collective conscience.

          4. Thanks for the correct dates on that. If he takes office, the Emolument Clause should prohibit him from acting as president. He has too many conflicts of interest. And so should be immediately impeached. We may consider ourselves leaderless now.
            But yes, I hope the Electoral College admits they stole it from Hillary… (Fake news and Putin and the Mob and some white supremacists like Bannon all helping.)
            Keep the dream alive Ladytappe. :)

  7. I think it just depends. If it’s a matter of responding to pure vitriol and rage, then I probably will not engage with that person on social media. But I have friends and acquaintances who post about things they genuinely believe, and if my own life experience offers a contradiction or challenge to that way of thinking, I encourage them not to see things as so black and white.
    Just for example, I have a pro life friend who likes to post about “victories” in abortion legislation, say the upcoming Texas legislation on December 19th where aborted fetuses will require cremation or funerals. I would respond by agreeing that (although I’m pro choice) I think abortion is something that should be avoided, and also voice my concern that the law does not consider that women who have miscarriages would be forced to go through a lot more pain and trauma. A lot of times I just say “I think we can do better than this. Let’s raise the bar.”
    Basically, I try to empathize while also adding examples that might expand the empathy of others. It doesn’t always work. But it has led to some great conversations and growth in myself and in others, and thus I’m going to continue annoying most of my friends on facebook :)
    “Live in fragments no longer. Only connect.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

  8. Act on Social Media is important because your words can reach hundread, thousand, million people by an easy post.
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  9. I am struggling with this immensely, so thank you for articulating a very similar train of thought so clearly. Is maintaining silence an act of cowardice and a shrinking from messages of hatred, or is it a steadfast refusal to participate in their amplification? I wonder if using non-complementary communication on social media might be a good way to walk a middle path – to respond to the messages, but in an unexpected and positive way that confuses and defuses. NPR’s Invisibilia did a good feature on it:

  10. I’ve always looked at speaking out against things that I feel are wrong, as necessary, and that using my voice in this way was and is the first step to any type of change. Speaking up is productive in the way it has of opening up the eyes of others of whom you may or may not know, people who are beyond your reach, and encouraging others, including our youth, to speak up and use their voices. I feel that our mind is our first tool of defense. Our voice is our second. Our actions third. All together these can make a single individual a force. I think it is important that we use our minds to learn first, and form our opinions second, and to find an effective way to speak, and our actions should be the representation of our beliefs. The fact is, there is always going to be negative feedback, whether you’re on social media or out at charity event, a protest, or a food drive, etc. This is what I’ve learned to accept- that there will be negative feedback and verbal attacks, and I continue to speak and do what I feel is right despite that. I think our attention to the feedback is misplaced sometimes. It is not about the twenty people who gave you angry, hateful responses, it’s about the 1 you got through to. It is about not being afraid to get that angry feedback or have people disagree, because that is inevitable. If I say, that I am going to be a part of change by taking a positive stand, then, yes, this means that I am also willing to lose friends, followers, etc. And so I continue to lose and gain… But, I love

  11. This is a relevant important issue that many are struggling with. The part of the internet I find most disturbing is how few research the reality of what they read. Often there is an immediate gut trigger that prompts us to react instantaneously, our outrage a reflex to something posted that very well may be from a skewed perspective at best or literally untrue at worst. In response my commentary has mellowed. I respond less and when I do, I try to stay both respectful and thoughtful. I take very little at face value anymore. Thanks for posting this. Love the philosophical flip- it is a dog eat dog world

    1. It wasn’t reality they were looking for. The facts were easy to find. That is the mistake people are making. They didn’t all require facts. There are drastically different agendas and so it’s not about “peace” or “revenge” it’s about fighting for democracy and getting rid of the private interests and corruption that is TRUMP.

      1. I agree with you about drastically different agendas. Respectfully, no matter who you supported in our last election there were plenty of unpleasant surprises. Social media seems to encourage emotional responses and vigorous expression as opposed to thoughtful communication.

        1. Well, humans are emotional more than they are reasonable. They aren’t motivated by truth and facts, they are motivated by power and greed ( I stole that second part of the quote from the Dali Lama). In any case, giving up the ground to the emotional people and retiring all the reasonable responses means there will be no thoughtful communication and you are allowing a very powerful tool (of communication) to be usurped. You don’t have to win an argument to seed facts and reason. That way the people you are seeking to make contact with and or inform have a stepping stone. Thanks for your reply.

  12. A lot of the people who post hateful content online are just trolls; they get a kick out of others’ reactions and feel no remorse over who they may hurt or intimidate. This is one reason to remain silent; if they don’t see the reaction they want to, they should eventually give up when they realise no-one is taking the bait. It’s boring for them.

    However, I don’t completely ignore hateful content; it’s poisonous and I don’t believe we should have to read some of the vile comments spewed out against individuals and groups of people. That’s why I report these instances to the social media platform I see them on, as well as hiding them from my Newsfeed. It doesn’t always lead to removal of the content, but hopefully it should lower the visibility of posts of this nature.

    1. They also do it to glean things for the trump camp to spin and use against us. Plus… they are supposed to troll feminist women in particular and mercilessly to get them completely off the internet according to the Bannon Alt-right decree.

      1. It almost feels unsafe to express your opinion online nowadays. I’ve seen comments escalate to the point where people are threatening each other based on issues that aren’t even relevant to whatever was posted in the first place. Feminism is an easy target to a lot of trolls because people get protective over their views. Better not to give them the satisfaction!

        1. It is unsafe. You’re right. That’s also why your silence is an easy win for them. Like they see the progress they are making and we are becoming easy victims. Technology lends itself to the bully better than anyone else. That’s why it’s a business man’s playground too. But I’m not saying to do battle with trolls. You have to be really ok emotionally to do it and have no expectation of them. Usually I simply defend myself as a matter of principle, or defend someone else as a matter of principle and I don’t worry about the results. It’s not a hero complex. It’s something I do because of rape. Thanks for the dialogue. good luck out there.

          1. Absolutely – we all deal with things in our own way. When I say that I ignore the trolls, I would never allow someone to openly insult someone I care about without having my say. However… When I see people posting petty comments to get a reaction or bait people (e.g. “waiting for the feminazis to come out and comment on this”) – they’re looking for a fight and I choose not to give it to them. You too – good luck :)

  13. Sometimes I feel the urge to participate in social media when I know what newspaper companies have spreaded do not present the representative information about one case. Therefore, for example, I need to highlight Facebook users who are actually involve in that particular event to show the other side of the stories.

  14. Your argument comparing the social media posts to nodes in quite interesting. I must agree that if the real goal is to stop the damaging posts, then not responding is the best course of action. Thanks for the insight.

  15. Interesting (and persuasive) point of view! Maybe the best response to hate campaigns in social media then would be writing on the issue in more traditional media? Just wondering. I have so far shunned Facebook, Twitter and the like because I don’t like too much digital noise, good or bad.

  16. A well thought out article on a subject that is relevant to many around the globe. I was told by a writer/critic once that the more progressive minded people put out their views on social media the better. I tried to follow his advice and would comment on posts which seemed to question basic human values and lacked sensitivity. But the result was largely that I got disturbed and it did nothing more than making me loose my focus in what I do ( research). After some thought I left social media and have lived happily. At least, there is nothing to stop me from focusing on what I do.

  17. Thoughtful. To cut off, and otherwise turn our backs on reprehensible on-line behavior is a viable solution to the attention seekers. Most people react in force because to not oppose horrible behavior is to be a party to it. Still, I think you’re on to something. In this new world of social media, how can we know when the momentum of this bad behavior has tilted in its favor if we do not, in our numbers, oppose it?

  18. I keep coming back to the idea of aggression, of action and inaction. Here are the words of author Ursula K. Le Guin in her latest blog post, “The Election, Lao Tzu, A Cup of Water”:

    “…Refusing to engage an aggressor on his terms, standing ground, holding firm, is not aggression — though the aggressive opponent will always declare that it is. Refusing to meet violence with violence is a powerful, positive act.

    But that is paradoxical. It’s hard to see how not doing something can be more positive than doing something. When all the words we have to use are negative — inaction, nonviolence, refusal, resistance, evasion — it’s hard to see and keep in mind that the outcome of these so-called negatives is positive, while the outcome of the apparently positive act of making war is negative.

    We confuse self-defense, the reaction to aggression, with aggression itself. Self-defense is a necessary and morally defensible reaction.

    But defending a cause without fighting, without attacking, without aggression, is not a reaction at all. It is an action. It is an expression of power. It takes control…”

    There’s a lot more in the post I think is pertinent to the discussion.

    1. Hi Isaac… I am a fan or Ursula. She’s from the Pacific Northwest where I am from. And to the point of the blog post which is basically telling people to not to speak up in the form of a question, I rather think what Ursula wrote is fitting:

      “I know that many men and even women are afraid and angry when women do speak, because in this barbaric society, when women speak truly they speak subversively – they can’t help it: if you’re underneath, if you’re kept down, you break out, you subvert. We are volcanoes. When we women offer our experience as our truth, as human truth, all the maps change. There are new mountains.

      That’s what I want – to hear you erupting. You young Mount St. Helenses who don’t know the power in you – I want to hear you. I want to listen to you talking to each other and to us all: whether you’re writing an article or a poem or a letter or teaching a class or talking with friends or reading a novel or making a speech or proposing a law or giving a judgment or singing the baby to sleep or discussing the fate of nations, I want to hear you. Speak with a woman’s tongue. Come out and tell us what time of night it is! Don’t let us sink back into silence. If we don’t tell our truth, who will? Who’ll speak for my children, and yours?”

      The link below is for the full essay (which is amazing) and is about the “father tongue” and the the “mother tongue” (father tongue is the patriarchal / white supremacist dominant language): It was first published in a collection of essays, Dancing At The Edge of the World: Thoughts on Words, Women, Places, New York: Harper & Row, 1989 (147-160).
      Here’s a snippet of the longer essay:
      “We are told, in words and not in words, we are told by their deafness, by their stone ears, that our experience, the life experience of women, is not valuable to men – therefore not valuable to society, to humanity. We are valued by men only as an element of their experience, as things experienced; anything we may say, anything we may do, is recognized only if said or done in their service…
      But in society as a whole the patriarchal mythology of what “a woman” does persists almost unexamined, and shapes the lives of women. “What are you going to do when you get out of school?” “Oh, well, just like any other woman, I guess I want a home and family” – and that’s fine, but what is this home and family just like other women’s? Dad at work, mom home, two kids eating apple pie? This family, which our media and now our government declare to be normal and impose as normative, this nuclear family now accounts for seven percent of the arrangements women live in in America.Ninety-three percent of women don’t live that way. They don’t do that. Many wouldn’t if you gave it to them with bells on. Those who want that, who believe it’s their one true destiny – what’s their chance of achieving it? They’re on the road to Heartbreak House. But the only alternative offered by the patriarchal mythology is that of the Failed Woman – the old maid, the barren woman, the castrating bitch, the frigid wife, the lezzie, the libber, the Unfeminine, so beloved of misogynists both male and female.

      Now indeed there are women who want to be female men; their role model is Margaret Thatcher, and they’re ready to dress for success, carry designer briefcases, kill for promotion, and drink the Right Scotch. They want to buy into the man’s world, whatever the cost. And if that’s true desire, not just compulsion born of fear, O.K.; if you can’t lick ’em join ’em. My problem with that is that I can’t see it as a good life even for men, who invented it and make all the rules. There’s power in it, but not the kind of power I respect, not the kind of power that sets anybody free. I hate to see an intelligent woman voluntarily double herself up to get under the bottom line. Talk about crawling! And when she talks, what can she talk but father tongue? If she’s the mouthpiece for the man’s world, what has she got to say for herself?

      Some women manage it – they may collude, but they don’t sell out as women; and we know that when they speak for those who, in the man’s world, are the others: women, children, the poor…. But it is dangerous to put on Daddy’s clothes, though not, perhaps, as dangerous as it is to sit on Daddy’s knees.

      There’s no way you can offer your experience as your truth if you deny your experience, if you try to be a mythical creature, the dummy woman who sits there on Big Daddy’s lap. Whose voice will come out of her prettily hinged jaw? Who is it says yes all the time? Oh yes, yes, I will. Oh I don’t know, you decide. Oh I can’t do that. Yes hit me, yes rape me, yes save me, oh yes. That is how A Woman talks, the one in What-we-shall-never-know-is-what-A-Woman-wants.

      A Woman’s place, need I say, is in the home, plus at her volunteer work or the job where she’s glad to get sixty cents for doing what men get paid a dollar for but that’s because she’s always on pregnancy leave but childcare? No! A Woman is home caring for her children! even if she can’t. Trapped in this well-built trap, A Woman blames her mother for luring her into it, while ensuring that her own daughter never gets out; she recoils from the idea of sisterhood and doesn’t believe women have friends, because it probably means something unnatural, and anyhow, A Woman is afraid of women. She’s a male construct, and she’s afraid women will deconstruct her. She’s afraid of everything, because she can’t change. Thighs forever thin and shining hair and shining teeth and she’s my Mom, too, all seven percent of her. And she never grows old.

      There are old women – little old ladies, as people always say; little bits, fragments of the great dummy statue goddess A Woman. Nobody hears if old women say yes or no, nobody pays them sixty cents for anything. Old men run things. Old men run the show, press the buttons, make the wars, make the money. In the man’s world, the old man’s world, the young men run and run and run until they drop, and some of the young women run with them. But old women live in the cracks, between the walls, like roaches, like mice, a rustling sound, a squeaking. Better lock up the cheese, boys. It’s terrible, you turn up a corner of civilization and there are all these old women running around on the wrong side-

      when you look at yourself in the mirror, I hope you see yourself. Not one of the myths. Not a failed man – a person who can never succeed because success is basically defined as being male – and not a failed goddess, a person desperately trying to hide herself in the dummy Woman, the image of men’s desires and fears. I hope you look away from those myths and into your own eyes, and see your own strength. You’re going to need it. I hope you don’t try to take your strength from men, or from a man. Secondhand experience breaks down a block from the car lot. I hope you’ll take and make your own soul; that you’ll feel your life for yourself pain by pain and joy by joy; that you’ll feed your life, eat, “eat as you go” – you who nourish, be nourished! If being a cog in the machine or a puppet manipulated by others isn’t what you want, you can find out what you want, your needs, desires, truths, powers, by accepting your own experience as a woman, as this woman, this body, this person, your hungry self. On the maps drawn by men there is an immense white area, terra incognita, where most women live. That country is all yours to explore, to inhabit, to describe.

      But none of us lives there alone. Being human isn’t something people can bring off alone; we need other people in order to be people. We need one another.

      If a woman sees other women as Medusa, fears them, turns a stone ear to them, these days, all her hair may begin to stand up on end hissing, Listen, listen, listen!Listen to other women, your sisters, your mothers, your grandmothers – if you don’t hear them how will you ever understand what your daughter says to you?

      And the men who can talk, converse with you, not trying to talk through the dummy Yes-Woman, the men who can accept your experience as valid – when you find such a man love him, honor him! But don’t obey him. I don’t think we have any right to obedience. I think we have a responsibility to freedom.”

      and here’s an important quote for reproductive rights:

      “The preservation of life seems to be rather a slogan than a genuine goal of the anti-abortion forces: what they want is control. Control over behavior: power over women. Women in the anti-choice movement want to share in male power over women, and do so by denying their own womanhood, their own rights and responsibilities.” ~Ursula K. Le Guin, Dancing at the Edge of the World: Thoughts on Words, Women, Places (1997).

  19. This has been on my mind too. More specifically, does a show of resistance online or in person result in anything positive. There is something infantile in our political conversation right now that is feeding on negative energy the way a toddler will act out to get scolded because any attention is good attention.

    At the same time there is a sinister drive toward authoritarianism that I suspect is separate from the toddlers among us. But they blend together, the toddlers and authoritarians. I am afraid one is best ignored while the other is ignored at our peril.

  20. The thing with social media is, there are far too many keyboard warriors. This article is very relevant right now but unfortunately makes me worry for the future generation.

  21. In our era of armchair activism sometimes the best action to take is not to react. In my mind the Dog, no longer just mass media, is not is but the network we can join that fuels the offensive posts. I agree, Don’t Feed the Dog!

  22. This approach is a wise one, but it is counterintuitive. We want to be heard and it feels good to lash out and retort or retaliate. If we manage to stifle our visceral, emotional response, we at least long to respond and try to win others over with logic and reason. But just think how differently the campaign season might have played out if we had all responded with silence, by ignoring all efforts to get us to engage. Silence, like turning the other cheek, may be perceived as weakness or apathy. But in fact it has its own power.

    1. Perhaps presentation rather than engagement (with an “opponent”) is a more useful approach. Reaction never yields the most efficacious outcome, if only because such reaction is driven (controlled) by that which triggered the reaction. Presentation, on the other hand, might address the same “material” but can avoid gifting the author with attention (which is likely to have been the goal). Simply: say something positive. Be heard. Your proclamation need not reference anyone but you and your ideas.

  23. An interesting post. I am part of our school’s publication staff, and I admit that’s its difficult to contribute to social media without someone bashing or against you.
    I’m trying to get my blig site going. You can check it out.

  24. Really enjoyed this whole discussion! The question is “where to act?” In what ways , one needs to act? Being silent is considered an act of cowardice! Who is there to listen? All engaged in playing with their own trumpet. It needs to be a two way process.

  25. This is a nice post for today’s generation of Internet users and your thoughts are absolutely correct about social media. There are many debates held about social media around the world and your blog is perfect for it. Love to read your next post, till then good night or maybe good morning depends upon your time zone. Just kidding👍

  26. This is interesting! It’s true, too. But silence doesn’t guarantee that that network would be stopped, would it? I’ve seen active participation in social media lead to active participation in real life. There’s also the benefit of sharing what you think so that others can understand other viewpoints more on issues that they see and read on social media sites. It spreads more awareness and growth, and that way, we’re actually involved in working with our country. I think we all have to work on how and why we respond to certain topics, so that it all together isn’t pointless, or merely about having to have your say.

  27. Thank you for the thoughtful post. I need to reacquaint myself with Habermas. However, I think the issue is much deeper than what you have presented. In addition to the question of social media, a relevant definition of identity is also important. Slightly changing the two questions you pose, I would suggest (1) the rationale for our reaction to opposing ideas erupts from who we define ourselves to be (why we feel a need to respond) and (2) how we identify ourselves within a so-called “public space” leads us toward appropriate and away from inappropriate avenues/methods of response (if any). I agree that opting NOT to react to what we define as negative presentations is a more useful approach. A positive presentation of our own, divorced from any direct “reaction”, is probably more effective—once we decide the why and how of OUR presentation. I, like you, am working through these questions. I look forward to your future posts.

  28. Such an important and difficult subject. It seems so many of us are addicted to ugly and drama. Imagine if the attention and desire was to help others and report positive media first. On top of that, opinions have become more shunned with hateful responses to one another simply due to ones view/opinion. It’s tough, I think it will be tough to tackle from any angle. I started a blog to focus on the good and how to be an impactful leader in any environment. I hope my blog helps challenge people to think and react differently. I’d love to see, and believe we will, more and more continue this route of creating open and respectful communication.

  29. If it doesn’t “effect you” it doesn’t bother you and you call that peace? How luxurious for you to delve into too much philosophy and tell others how to not speak up in real life. :(

  30. I’m grateful for the thoughtful comments and responses, and I appreciate the stories and experiences you all have shared.

    I hope it was clear in the post that I am not advocating silence in the face of injustice or untruth as a universally applicable policy. I’m thinking about what might be the most effective form of action in specific, online contexts, about the most effective tactics given the unique dynamics of the online attention economy.

    That said, some of you might find this earlier post useful when thinking about engaging online when that is the appropriate response:

  31. Donald Trump didn’t win. He is NOT fit for office. The electoral college was designed in the 1700’s to protect slave owners. 2 and a half million more people voted for Hillary. Jill and the Libertarian or Green party people got some votes too so Trump got 46% which mean that racists in the southern states stole the election. Your democracy is in serious trouble and anyone not dealing with stopping trump from taking office Jan 1 at noon, is ushering in a tyrant. You will not have job security. You will not have clean air or water. And you can all talk about shutting up on line because ranters make you feel bad.
    Trump did not save jobs for Carrier. The President of the Steel Workers Local 1999, is calling out Donald as a liar.
    Trump is invested in the DAPL (oil pipeline) and is appointing the oil man to be in charge of the EPA so the Lakota tribes success now will not continue under a Trump rule.
    To stay silent means you’re all losers by choice.
    This blog article is lazy.
    Keep being lazy and you better be ready for civil war.
    Donald Trump is not my president.

  32. The media is the culprit. I am able to talk to both sides. I never have issues. Most of the alt right is far exaggerated and the comments about liberals and socialism are as well. Money is made off dividing and once an opinion is involved it becomes fake news.

  33. Entirely agree Michael. After the UK referendum most of the bilious hate came from those who voted to remain in the EU calling those of us who voted to Leave, selfish, fascist, racist, backwards looking, colonial, and worse. The barrage was utterly abusive and the simplest response was to delete Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr accounts. I will face anyone on this topic eyeball to eyeball but will not take 1000s of these people coming at me online. Just like the “off” button to the malicious BBC website, silence and delete are powerful enough.

    1. Dr B, of course you British people are about kings and colonialism. Why are you denying your history? Ya’ll just don’t wann take the consequences for your empire building. Anyhow, This is an article about Roy Cohn, Trump’s mentor and if you like these tactics and traits, you are supporting tyranny. I’m not saying to twitter or whatever. I think facebook sucks. I leave this long comment/article here for all who think this is a viable peace time and that simply going forward “business as usual” is at all healthy.

      ” It was the fall of 1984, Trump Tower was new, and this was unusual territory for the 38-year-old real estate developer. He was three years away from his first semi-serious dalliance with presidential politics, more than 30 years before the beginning of his current campaign—but he had gotten the idea to bring this up, he said, from his attorney, his good friend and his closest adviser, Roy Cohn.
      That Roy Cohn.
      Roy Cohn, the lurking legal hit man for red-baiting Sen. Joe McCarthy, whose reign of televised intimidation in the 1950s has become synonymous with demagoguery, fear-mongering and character assassination. In the formative years of Donald Trump’s career, when he went from a rich kid working for his real estate-developing father to a top-line dealmaker in his own right, Cohn was one of the most powerful influences and helpful contacts in Trump’s life.
      Over a 13-year-period, ending shortly before Cohn’s death in 1986, Cohn brought his say-anything, win-at-all-costs style to all of Trump’s most notable legal and business deals. Interviews with people who knew both men at the time say the relationship ran deeper than that—that Cohn’s philosophy shaped the real estate mogul’s worldview and the belligerent public persona visible in Trump’s presidential campaign.
      “Something Cohn had, Donald liked,” Susan Bell, Cohn’s longtime secretary, said this week when I asked her about the relationship between her old boss and Trump.
      By the 1970s, when Trump was looking to establish his reputation in Manhattan, the elder Cohn had long before remade himself as the ultimate New York power lawyer, whose clientele included politicians, financiers and mob bosses. Cohn engineered the combative response to the Department of Justice’s suit alleging racial discrimination at the Trumps’ many rental properties in Brooklyn and Queens. He brokered the gargantuan tax abatements and the mob-tied concrete work that made the Grand Hyatt hotel and Trump Tower projects. He wrote the cold-hearted prenuptial agreement before the first of his three marriages and filed the headline-generating antitrust suit against the National Football League. To all of these deals, Cohn brought his political connections, his public posturing and a simple credo: Always attack, never apologize.
      “Cohn just pushed through things—if he wanted something, he got it. I think Donald had a lot of that in him, but he picked up a lot of that from Cohn,” Bell said.

      “Roy was a powerful force, recognized as a person with deep and varied contacts, politically as well as legally,” Michael Rosen, who worked as an attorney in Cohn’s firm for 17 years, told me. “The movers and shakers of New York, he was very tight with these people—they admired him, they sought his advice. His persona, going back to McCarthy … and his battles with the government certainly attracted clients.” It was a long, formidable list that included the executives of media empires, the Archbishop of New York and mafia kingpin Fat Tony Salerno, and there, too, near the top, was budding, grasping Donald John Trump.
      “He considered Cohn a mentor,” Mike Gentile, the lead prosecutor who got Cohn disbarred for fraud and deceit not long before he died, said in a recent interview.
      People who knew Cohn and know Trump—people who have watched and studied both men—say they see in Trump today unmistakable signs of the enduring influence of Cohn. The frank belligerence. The undisguised disregard for niceties and convention. The media manipulation clotted with an abiding belief in the potent currency of celebrity.

      Trump did not respond to a request from Politico to talk about Cohn. In the past, though, when he has talked about Cohn, Trump has been clear about why he collaborated with him, and admired him.
      “If you need someone to get vicious toward an opponent, you get Roy,” he told Newsweek in 1979.

      A year later, pressed by a reporter from New York magazine to justify his association with Cohn, he was characteristically blunt: “All I can tell you is he’s been vicious to others in his protection of me.”
      He elaborated in an interview in 2005. “Roy was brutal, but he was a very loyal guy,” Trump told author Tim O’Brien. “He brutalized for you.”
      Trump, in the end, turned some of that cold calculation on his teacher, severing his professional ties to Cohn when he learned his lawyer was dying of AIDS.
      Cohn and Trump, according to Trump, met in 1973 at Le Club, a members-only East Side hangout for social-scene somebodies and those who weren’t but wanted to be. By then Cohn had been in the public eye for 20 years. As chief counsel to McCarthy, he led secretive investigations of people inside and outside the federal government whom he and McCarthy suspected of Communist sympathies, homosexuality or espionage. Over a period of several years, McCarthy’s crusade destroyed dozens of careers before a final 36-day, televised hearing brought his and Cohn’s often unsubstantiated allegations into the open, leading to McCarthy’s censure in the Senate. Cohn, disgraced by association, retreated to his native New York. There, through the ‘60s and into the ‘70s, Cohn embraced an unabashedly conspicuous lifestyle. He had a Rolls-Royce with his initials on a vanity plate and a yacht called Defiance. He was a singular nexus of New York power, trafficking in influence and reveling in gossip. He hung on the walls of the East 68th Street townhouse, that doubled as the office of his law firm, pictures of himself with politicians, entertainers and other bold-face names. He was a tangle of contradictions, a Jewish anti-Semite and a homosexual homophobe, vehemently closeted but insatiably promiscuous. In 1964, ’69 and ’71, he had been tried and acquitted of federal charges of conspiracy, bribery and fraud, giving him—at least in the eyes of a certain sort—an aura of battle-tested toughness, the perception of invincibility. “If you can get Machiavelli as a lawyer,” he would write in The Autobiography of Roy Cohn, “you’re certainly no fool of a client.”

      Trump was 27. He had just moved to Manhattan but was still driving back to his father’s company offices in Brooklyn for work. He hadn’t bought anything. He hadn’t built anything. But he had badgered the owners of Le Club to let him join, precisely to get to know older, connected, power-wielding men like Cohn. He knew who he was. And now he wanted to talk.

      He and his father had just been slapped with Department of Justice charges that they weren’t renting to blacks because of racial discrimination. Attorneys had urged them to settle. Trump didn’t want to do that. He quizzed Cohn at Le Club. What should they do?
      He became Donald’s mentor, his constant adviser on every significant aspect of his business and personal life.”

      “Tell them to go to hell,” Cohn told Trump, according to Trump’s account in his book The Art of the Deal, “and fight the thing in court.”
      That December, representing the Trumps in United States v. Fred C. Trump, Donald Trump and Trump Management, Inc., Cohn filed a $100-million countersuit against the federal government, deriding the charges as “irresponsible” and “baseless.”

      The judge dismissed it quickly as “wasting time and paper.”
      The back-and-forth launched more than a year and a half of bluster and stalling and bullying—and ultimately settling. But in affidavits, motions and hearings in court, Cohn accused the DOJ and the assisting FBI of “Gestapo-like tactics.” He labeled their investigators “undercover agents” and “storm troopers.” Cohn called the head of DOJ down in Washington and attempted to get him to censure one of the lead staffers.

      The judge called all of it “totally unfounded.”

      By June of 1975, the judge had had it with the Trumps’ attorney. “I must say, Mr. Cohn,” he said in a hearing, “that this case seems to be plagued with unnecessary problems, and I think the time has come when we have to bite the bullet.”
      They hashed out the details of a consent decree. The Trumps were going to have to rent to more blacks and other minorities and they were going to have to put ads in newspapers—including those targeted specifically to minority communities—saying they were an “equal housing opportunity” company. Trump and his father, emboldened by Cohn, bristled at the implication of wrongdoing—even, too, at the cost of the ads.
      “It is really onerous,” Trump complained.
      At one point, flouting the formality of the court, Trump addressed one of the opposing attorneys by her first name: “Will you pay for the expense, Donna?”
      Trump and Cohn seemed most concerned with managing the media. They squabbled with the government attorneys over the press release about the disposition. First they wanted no release. Impossible, said the government. Then they wanted “a joint release.” A what? A public agency, it was explained to them, had a public information office, on account of the public’s right to know.
      Cohn didn’t want to hear it. “They will say what they want,” he told the judge, and everybody else in the courtroom, “and we will say what we want.”
      The government called the consent decree “one of the most far reaching ever negotiated.”
      Cohn and Trump? They called it a victory.
      Case 73 C 1529 was over. The relationship between Cohn and Trump had just begun.
      “Though Cohn had ostensibly been retained by Donald to handle a single piece of litigation,” Wayne Barrett, an investigative journalist for New York’s Village Voice, would write in his 1992 book about Trump, “he began in the mid-‘70s to assume a role in Donald’s life far transcending that of a lawyer. He became Donald’s mentor, his constant adviser on every significant aspect of his business and personal life.”

      Read more:

      1. You just can’t help yourselves can you with your generalisation and assumptive insults. Point proven “Dr B, of course you British people are about kings and colonialism. Why are you denying your history? Ya’ll just don’t wann take the consequences for your empire building.”

        1. Seriously Dr. B? You feel insulted and made into a generalization? Well, You haven’t offered any “proof” to the contrary. You’ve written you’re in support of Trump on this post and willing to work with white supremacists. There is nothing to assume or presume…
          Roy Cohn is not anyone you should want as a role model. Putin is known to literally poison his opponents, and it is proven that Putin hacked and interfered with our elections. Trump works with Putin and the Mafia. Read what I gave you and stop being defensive. This is bigger than your ego.

  34. In my opinion, everyone should have to be free in giving their own personal thoughts on social media. If you have given your perspective about a specific matter than stick to it and defend it. Sometimes you need not to mess with social media audience as they are not capable of understanding your thoughts. So don’t worry

  35. Pingback: Unchain the tree

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