I have a dark secret. I am that soulless Facebook user who refuses to ‘Like’ or ‘Share’ heartfelt tales and the accompanying photos of sick children, inspirational human beings conquering misfortune, or dogs partaking in some sort of loyal pack animal behaviour to overcome adversity paw in hand with their ailing owner or a random child in dire straits.
The reason for my refusal is simple; because in almost every instance I feel my lack of clicking is going to be just as effective as my clicking, except that I break the cycle of causing annoyance to other heartless monsters who also don’t want to have to scroll through guilt trips and disaster porn.
Obviously my motivation is more complex than just having been around the internet-block a few times and becoming jaded and cynical towards attempts to solicit an emotional response. A bit of healthy cynicism can’t hurt you. Looking like you’re the kind of person who would become outraged about Bonsai Kitten in 2012 probably won’t hurt you either, but you will be promoting your gullibility.
People may claim that sharing these posts, even if they aren’t saving the world, are at least starting a conversation. But the directions these conversations go in can be unpredictable, misleading and often unhelpful. This is evident by reading the increasing volume of comments as the post is passed on. Comment bingo can be achieved pretty quickly when you’re on the look out for things, such as the person who doesn’t quite get it and addresses their comment to the friend who liked it before them; the nothing better to do on a Wednesday night troll; the ‘you know that dog is probably dead now’ buzz-killer; and, the easily tipped over the edge all-capser.
My personal favourite is the person who comments to express disapproval either of the content in the initial post or, more likely, the content of the comments. These people miss the fact they’re giving the post, and what they’ve deemed offensive content, a wider viewership as it is shared further into their very own social sphere. The day this person discovers the ‘report’ button will blow their tiny mind.
We shouldn’t assume it’s only the naïve or plain obnoxious who’ll click ‘Like’ or feel compelled to add their two cents worth. One of the reasons these pictures and accompanying stories spread so fast on social networks is that we are, for the most part, a highly emotional and compassionate species. We see a child suffering and we want to do something to make ourselves feel useful. I’m sure back in the days before a great deal of our core community could be found online, we’d be able to feel like we were contributing to the good in the world by making a freezer meal for a neighbour. Now with almost no thought or effort our contributions are more along the lines of spreading images on a global scale of children we don’t know which have been posted for reasons that are quite possibly falsified.
A typical example is a ‘share if you’re against child abuse’ meme that went around earlier this year featuring the injured face of a toddler. We’re told that toddler had suffered through severe beatings and abuse by her father, eventually to the point of it ending her short life. A rather confronting image given the age of the child and that the photo is real and not doctored in any way. But the story behind that meme is 100 per cent false. As stated on two internet hoax busting sites, Hoax-Slayer and Snopes, it is actually a photo from a BBC news article about a dog attack 10 years ago in the UK. The toddler survived the attack so you could assume she is almost a teenager now. Given the cyclic nature of these sorts of pictures being misused, often with only slightly altered stories, she may one day in the near future open up her Facebook to quite a shock.
However, you might consider her to be one of the luckier ones as far as it goes for misappropriated photos.
Not so dated in origins is the photograph of a girl meeting Justin Bieber outside a hotel. Thanks to a troll counting on the overzealous clicking of well meaning Facebook users, she has since had to assure people that ‘no, she was not raped after a concert’, her mother did not die in a car accident, and Justin Bieber is not paying for her to see a psychologist. Even in the event the first allegation was true, it’s a disturbing ‘click culture’ forming where people aren’t considering the implications of their passing around a photo of a teenage rape victim in favour of being the person to spread the news to their social circles.
Who initiates the spread of these stories? Are they well-meaning upstanding members of our community? Or SMEGs trying to increase traffic and interest to business websites? Bored teenagers? People with a psychological need for hundreds of ‘Likes’? Trolls? PhD students conducting a social experiment?
Why just accept a story or scenario being fed to us by a stranger we’ll never even meet? It is possibly because when we see it on our news feed those images and stories are coming via friends or family. There’s no reason to question the motivation of someone you love and trust in sharing the story with you. Now 14 of them are already displaying to their friends that they’re against child abuse, cancer, bullying and mistreatment of animals, so why haven’t you yet?
Hopefully you haven’t because you’ve chosen to consider the source and motives in those precious moments between an emotional response and deciding whether it’s worth your clicks. Otherwise, I have this adorable rectangular kitten I’d like to sell to you.
Image by Paolo Signorini via Creative Commons Licence