The big story over
the weekend was the curious case of Nick Sandmann, a student caught on viral
video wearing a "Make America Great Again" hat and smirking at a
singing Native American man who was beating a drum. The whole episode
constitutes a lesson in what is wrong with (a) the news media, (b) Twitter
mobs, (c) the culture of political protest, and (d) the culture of political
First, let's review
the facts. Initially, a short video was posted online somewhere, and an
attached comment claimed that a group of white teenagers were chanting
"build the wall" with their Trump hats, and that they then surrounded
a group of Native Americans and got in their faces. Later, a series of longer
videos appeared that made obvious the fact that the situation was quite
different. What really happened was that the MAGA teenagers were killing time
after being part of some pro-life Catholic protest, and in doing so came across
some fringe group of African-American bigots who started calling them
homosexual epithets and saying things that, by all accounts, are pretty
bizarre. (For example, they told one of the MAGA boys that the others were
going to harvest his organs. That's crazy.) Finally, a third group of
protestors -- a Native American group whose goals were not clear to me --
decided to walk up to the MAGA boys for some reason; one of them grabbed a drum
and beat it in student Nick Sandmann's face, while Sandmann stood there, trying
to put on a defiant face of calm composure.
In short, we were
initially lead to believe that the MAGA teens were the agitators; it turns out
that they were the real victims here, victims of two other groups who decided
to get in their faces and agitate them.
In the wake of the
first video, the one that made the boys out to be the antagonists, many news
media reports simply piled on without bothering to investigate the full set of
facts. I could talk about media bias or about lazy journalism, but what we all really
know is that getting the facts wrong, right out
of the gate, serves the media's purpose better than getting the facts
right would have. By getting things wrong in the first place, the media has
created a more dramatic news cycle; more drama equals more clicks, more clicks
equals more ad revenue, more ad revenue equals more bad reporting. Think about
it: If I tell you something completely false on Day 1, then I get to write
another article on Day 2 that merely questions
the initial falsehood. On Day 3, I get to validate
the additional facts coming in, and then finally on Day 4, I get to
write a concluding article with all the right information in it. Then I also
get to write a series of op-ed pieces reckoning with "society's"
tendency to latch-on to first impressions and come to biased conclusions.
In this way, the
media plays on our sense of outrage in order to stretch a single day of click
revenue into a full, week-long news cycle, with all the clicks and impressions
that entails. And, by participating in those clicks, we reward the news media
for that very behavior and ensure that it will happen again next time.
The second most
guilty party in this fiasco is the culture of political protest. If you've
never participated in or attended a political protest, you likely have no idea
what this culture is all about. But if you have, then you understand full well
that this is a subset of people who think it's fun
to spend an afternoon yelling at people.
That should tell you everything you need to know about them. Think how
preposterous it is that a school would sponsor a field trip to Washington DC,
where the kids will all get together and yell about abortion. That's not
education, that is madness. While I don't think the MAGA teens should have been
subjected to what they've gone through, perhaps next time they will be a little
more circumspect about what they can expect from an afternoon of political
activism. Yelling at people for fun will
get you all riled-up. So, when you're finished with your "fun," and
meet a bunch of people who have become similarly all riled-up, you can probably
expect conflict. If you're not expecting it, you're not very self-aware.
Hopefully these kids have learned a valuable lesson, and they don't grow up to
be anything like the people in the other two protest groups. The people in
those two groups obviously seek out differently minded groups to go yelling at.
And the result is what you see this week.
Twitter mobs -- a
term I'll apply to any social media outrage mob -- also have this proclivity
toward yelling at people for fun. That's the main reason I stopped using
Twitter: I don't think yelling at people is fun. I don't think snarking at
people is fun. I don't think apoplexy is mentally healthy, much less
entertaining, and anyone who actively fosters that kind of thing in their own
lives -- indeed, in their leisure time
-- is, in my opinion, insane. It is far more productive to use your leisure
time to foster healthy relationships, get outside, create some art, move your
body around, than it is to find things on the internet to yell about or prove
commentators I follow on social media were quick to take sides. Those who did
so early on had a lot of egg on their faces. One rather famous libertarian
commentator mentioned that he'd like to punch the kid, and put forth that the
kid was a clear example of "toxic masculinity." That commentator now
has to retreat into a bit of soul-searching, and I hope he finds it productive,
because this is not the first time he's jumped the gun on fake news. Others are
smugly presenting the fact that the initial story was wrong as proof of how
dumb the reactionaries are. I'm not sure this is a productive response, either,
though. Ultimately, they're all just piling-on.
So, what am I doing
here? Am I just piling on? Maybe I am. What I think I'm trying to say is this:
Stop reading the news; stop participating in
the media's use of outrage-marketing to turn minor events into major news
cycles; stop yelling at people for fun; stop using social media to make
Go outside, get some
sunlight on your face. Breathe deeply. Play some music or draw a picture or
read a book. Spend some time improving your relationships with other people.
Spend your time wisely on things that make you happy. Life is so short and so
precious. Don't waste it on this kind of nonsense. Learn to recognize when
you're being played, and run like hell from
it. Run into the welcoming arms of the love of your life and stay in that
embrace for an hour. That's an hour well spent.