When was the last time you saw one of those clickbait-y Facebook posts and thought “I NEED TO REPOST THIS RIGHT MEOW”? Did you immediately hit “Like” and “Share” it to your (dozens? hundreds?) of followers? Did you stop to think about the content of that post? Did you even read it all the way to the bottom?
Maybe you’re a conscientious user who always checks the facts before responding. Good for you! Maybe you’re like my fiancée, and you get around to Snopes-ing that Kony 2012 rage two hours after you already retweeted it. But think about all of the Friends on your list, all of the Tweeps that you follow, and all of your #Instagrammers (including that guy) and apply this logic to them. It’s no wonder that all grandma’s chain emails from the 90s are making a comeback…
One of the major problems with social media is that people don’t feel responsible for fact-checking what they see. They submit to the greater powers of The Internet and Share away. When it’s things like “Look at this cat in a shark costume riding a roomba while chasing a duck” or “You won’t believe how this army buddy changed his friend’s life,” Sharing because of the emotional response (either joy or awe) that a post gives you can be a great way to spread that joy even further. Hey, you might even spread a smile to a friend who is having an awful day at work and just needs some loveable fuzziness in his life right now.
I love the kitten reposts just as much as the next guy. But I want to shine a spotlight on the unending onslought of ignorance and rage that stems from people reposting “articles” without reading through them to the bottom and thinking critically about these issues. Critically engaging with an article on social media is perhaps a misappropriation of the platform, but bear with me for a moment. I suppose when you share an adorable image (for instance, this one), you’re engaging with it in such a way that Sharing is natural. It makes you happy, you don’t have to engage with it on a deep intellectual level, and you want other people to feel that. *click* Shared.
Articles, especially on Facebook, are treated the same way as images. You get a popout image in your News Feed, and you get a little blurb that goes with it. It gives you all these feels. *click* Shared. But there’s the problem. The article, which needs to be engaged with on a different level than memes was just given the same *feels* > *comment* > *click* > Shared brain process. But everyone loses when people read the thumbnail and share without thinking. The reason that lies and slander get reposted again and again isn’t because people are trying to make things worse. I propose an amendment to Hanlon’s Razor: “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity,” or in this case, laziness.
Oh, and just in case you don’t believe that people don’t read what they repost… I’ll just leave this here.
Author’s Note: A couple days after writing this article, this BuzzFeed post came across my News Feed. Case in point.