Appeal to Reason and Continue to be Disappointed
What do you do every day that can bring everyone greater ease in the long run?
Make no mistake, nurturing an unwavering belief in the power of words in the Trump era is both defiance and dissent, especially on an internet that frequently sounds like Alex Jones on steroids.
His superpower is, allegedly, being honest; mine is typing with extended middle fingers.
Ours isn’t a culture that prizes thinking, reflection, or even knowledge. As a rule, the internet elevates whatever shocks and stirs up controversy. That’s why it’s easy to make bank by riding the coat tails of any celebrity of your choosing. Or rather, anti-intellectualism FTW.
“According to twitter” or “as seen on Facebook” or “based on Instagram” is hardly a hallmark of editorial quality, especially when a piece is based on rumors and tells you as much in an elan of last-minute Jones-esque honesty. Those words have no point other than feed the algorithm but of course they never tell you that.
Audience engagement is a tough mistress and quality is in the eye of the marketer. Granted, seasoned media practitioners are more ruthless than most, if only because we’ve been trained not to waste people’s time and to fact-check. We’re also vastly unconcerned about telling people what they want to hear.
But the problem with a lot of online content is that it defies fact-checking. It’s so vague, so fuzzy, and so bizarre it looks like sensationalism made to order, in the proud tradition of those magazines you get at the grocery store checkout.
The internet is a whiny, shouty, weepy women’s weekly and there’s no respite.
Why write and consume content that hurts us all?
Self-expression, free speech, and trauma have a lot to answer for.
The internet has given anyone who wants one a platform, thus enabling us to unburden ourselves and, perchance, right some wrongs without waiting for the approval of gatekeepers. Finally, every voice can be heard rather than those of a selected few and this is progress although you may not be aware of it if you weren’t alive before the internet and social media came along.
Alas, for some, the digital agora isn’t a place for debate, dialogue, or discourse. Instead, it’s where anyone who has ever disagreed with them is put on display in the stocks of shame or pilloried because, somehow, we’re still remarkably medieval in our ways.
The internet has become a humiliation device.
In journalism and law, this often translates as libel, defamation, slander but social media ethics and morals remain just as vague and fuzzy as those stories that defy fact-checking. But as long as platforms grow and people get paid, no one bats an eyelid.
Pointing out why we should care is about as popular as noting that sexual assault loves capitalism but it nonetheless remains a need. Not only is the internet our digital mirror but it has also become our lifeline at a time when many of us are stuck at home, alone.
Regrettably, this doesn’t seem to have had any impact on the tenor of the online discourse, a Trump-inspired hotbed of fear and finger-pointing fanning the flames of outrage. The folks who found a winning formula to get paid are sticking to it, never mind the impact of their words on others at a time when we’re all more vulnerable than ever.
The race to the bottom has only just begun. And it’s so bad even Democrats are throwing Trumpian temper tantrums online because there’s rumors about Biden.
What if riding Biden’s coat tails by accusing him without proof could pay the rent this month?
Why write then?
If not with words, how else can we possibly reclaim language?
It has long been weaponized by those whose modus operandi is to tug at our purse strings with shockers, outraged rants, and listicles listing all the reasons why anyone but their author will ever amount to anything.
You write to combat the kind of copy that thrives on hate reads and taps into people’s deepest insecurities.
You write to appeal to reason, common sense, and dialogue.
You write to remember words still matter (to you).
And you wonder every day why you bother because words that do not abide by the rules of shock and outrage get systematically buried. These are trying times for anyone who dares imagine a different world a little gentler, a little kinder, a little fairer than the one we live in.
If not through imagination, how else do we move thinking forward? Is thinking even still a thing? And do we really need to try and monetize every single brain fart as and when it happens? Not every thought deserves attention and not every thought deserves to become an idea and much less copy.
The antidote is also the disease: words, but better ones.
Spoiler alert: Our work will never be done.
Unless you’re in this for the long run, don’t bother else you’ll be churning out clickbait like everyone else in no time when you realize it’s what pays.
Without conviction, without a vision, you can’t spend your days up to your eyeballs in a cesspool waiting for hope to bubble up to the surface. It won’t, not unless you generate it. And you need endurance and the ability to weather stultifying stupidity to write online, in whatever capacity.
Not everyone responds thoughtfully to common sense and polite requests for clarification. This, in a nutshell, is the problem of polarizing content: It traps readers in echo chambers. If you’re never exposed to content that is at odds with your views, you lose the intellectual ability to entertain other views and any question — or disagreement — is a personal attack.
Right now, the internet behaves a lot like Trump when faced with a question he doesn’t like from a reporter employed by an outlet he doesn’t like.
Here’s what you can do: Keep connecting dots until the big picture emerges and if you don’t like what you see, change it.
Words are power.
I’m a French-American writer, journalist, and editor now based in the Netherlands. To continue the conversation, follow the bird. For email and everything else, deets in bio.