My Facebook newsfeed, like any other millennial’s, is a mix of engagement announcements, pregnancy updates and versions of the I’m feeling weird today sentiment. And then there’s something else. I call them the “worst of humanity” posts.
These consist of links to news articles, which is innocent enough and even positive—I like it when Facebook leads to information-sharing and good conversation, which it often does. But more and more lately I’m seeing articles that seem to represent the worst possible examples of any number of important current issues—from gender bias in academia to gay rights, from the current government shutdown to racism.
Let me give an example. A few weeks ago, this article (or some version of it) was all over my Facebook newsfeed—the one about David Gilmour’s choice not to teach female writers in his English courses. On every link to that article I found, people posted comment after angry comment, often not engaging in conversation but instead contributing one-liners like “I can’t even” and the like. Sure, these emotions are warranted. I want female writers to be taught as part of English curricula, too. But I want to question, first, why we put so much stock in extreme examples.
Honestly, my first response to the Gilmour situation was to write him off as an extreme. By doing that, I am in no way believing that gender bias in academia doesn’t exist—but I do believe that Gilmour represents an extreme, not the core of the issue. In reading responses to the Gilmour article, I found PolicyMic writer Alexandra Cardinale’s article. She writes, “But accusations of misogyny are not only unfounded but also likely a waste of time.” While those accusations may be legitimate in some senses, I completely agree that they’re largely a waste of time. Gilmour is problematic, sure, but doesn’t he represent an extreme of a problem that most informed academicians would agree upon? So why do we get worked up about him? Why do we band together on Facebook, of all platforms, to yell about it?
This says more about us than it does the issues themselves. First of all, I cannot find evidence that these posts are being used to raise awareness of their issues. If they were, I suspect comments would be more conversational, as readers would be finding issues they didn’t know were present before. Instead, it seems as if these posts function more to reassure the person who posts them that their opinion is “correct”—since, if nothing else, Facebook exists so we can have a community to validate our thoughts. After all, what else is the ‘like’ button for? And how else do all the validating angry comments function, if not to express agreement with the person who posted them?
Perhaps my main issue with this type of Facebook post is that it often seems to masquerade as activism when really, as I see it, it becomes little more than inflammatory. All these posts seem to do is point out how bad an issue can be instead of creating meaningful, productive dialogue about a topic. Do we post things like this to make ourselves feel better? To assure ourselves (and our peers) that we’ve seen the light on certain issues? I am not saying that we shouldn’t pay attention to these problematic issues. They deserve our critical thought, but they also deserve a productive, responsible response—and I’m not convinced that linking articles to our friends on Facebook always represents that productive response.
Beyond that, these types of posts contribute to the millennials-are-unhappy mindset that, unfortunately, we assume must be true of our lives. By finding these examples of the “worst of humanity,” we are convincing ourselves of an unbalanced view of the world. While I understand and believe that our world is deeply broken in some ways, I am also convinced that awareness of these issues does not have to mean dwelling negatively on them. They exist, but productive conversation about them is just that—a positive contribution to a world that needs us to move it in a different direction.
Let’s begin that good movement by thinking about what we’re doing when we are moved by frustration to share an article—what are the goals? We’re in an age where we are what we share on social media. Millennials already have plenty going against them, so why not use who we are and how we interact to represent ourselves well?