Social Media Justice Reveals Something Ugly About Our Society

Back in July there was an incident in Fargo where a man taking photographs in Island Park, near the pool, was himself photographed by someone who thought he was maybe a pervert. That person uploaded pictures of the photographer to Facebook where they quickly went viral.

The photos got thousands of shares and hundreds of comments from people who were assuming that he was, indeed, a pervert there to take pictures of the women and children in their bathing suits.

But, as I revealed in a newspaper column about the incident, not one of those people bothered to actually call the police. Instead they were satisfied with sanctimonious denunciations on social media.

I was thinking about that as I read Ryan Johnson’s column today about online parking vigilantes. Specifically the Fargo Can’t Park group on Facebook.

“The righteous indignation practically oozes through the screen,” Johnson writes. “Rather than confront that person who parked like a jerk outside Target, members snap a picture and upload it, reveling in each comment that confirms they were right and the parker was a jerk.”

Johnson puts his finger on something which drives a lot of social media activity. Something quite profound, I think.

“The righteous indignation practically oozes through the screen,” Johnson writes. “Rather than confront that person who parked like a jerk outside Target, members snap a picture and upload it, reveling in each comment that confirms they were right and the parker was a jerk.”

I’ve been running this blog for 13 years now. It’s older than Facebook and Twitter, and is nearly older than MySpace, if you can believe it. I watched, as a purveyor of digital content, the rise of one social media platform after another promising high-minded things like better communication with friends and family, and a deeper connection between users and the news/issues they care about.

And to be sure, there’s a lot of that going on. But what’s also happening is the creation of a sort of hive mind where people get together to shame and judge others over things like parking. Religion. Their looks. Their choice in sports teams.

That in and of itself is nothing special. Humanity has always had a wide streak of tribalism. But where social media goes a step further is enabling us to talk about one another instead of to one another.

Which is ironic for technology which has revolutionized communication.

Every day I see friends on Facebook trashing some store or restaurant in a posting with no evidence that they bothered to clear their problem up with the store’s management. A lot of time they don’t even tag the business in their posting. Because then I suppose someone from the business my see the criticism? And that would…make too much sense?

My favorite is the post someone writes about somebody else who is annoying them, but they don’t bother to name that person. You know the sort of post I’m talking about. It usually goes something like “Dear XXXX, please stop doing YYYY, sincerely everyone.”

Why bother to have a conversation with the XXXX doing YYYY when you can just write about it on Facebook?

Talking out your differences with someone is hard. Writing a passive aggressive social media post is easy.

I won’t lie; I’ve been guilty of this at times in the past. But I can tell you that after I spoke to that frightened photographer who was targeted by the Facebook hive mind for taking pictures in Island Park I had a big change in attitude.

Complaining about bad parking on Facebook is probably harmless, but where that sort of social interaction leads is nowhere good I think.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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