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Social Media Proves Ignorance Is Bliss

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With the ability to interact with fellow readers and comment on articles, the popularity of online social media is skyrocketing. Despite all the intelligent technology involved with these new interactive tools, it seems ignorance is also soaring.

In the old days, before the world wide web, any article we read was most likely written by a professional journalist. There were special sections, such as op-ed, designated for actual opinions on specific newsworthy subjects. Nowadays, however, with the explosion in Web 2.0, it’s hard to separate those based on actual fact from those based on pure fiction.

Amid all the cyber-content clutter, there are some trusted, newsworthy stories out there, which most web savvy users can distinguish from virtual viewpoints. Yet, after discovering and enjoying such astute, informative pieces, it appears from the extremely biased comments left by other readers that they’d much prefer fiction over fact.

It is true that every article one indulges must be taken with a grain of salt. After all, we are all human and sometimes authors, unfortunately, try to dictate the story rather than the other way around. Judging by most remarks, however, especially after political columns, it appears commenters are taking each story with a boulder of salt.

Instead of posting thoughts on the thesis or highlighted elements of each article, many are simply stating pointless generalizations, assumptions, and slanted propaganda. Basically, no matter how factual, newsworthy, or insightful it may be, readers are simply flooding message boards with their pre-disposed, biased agenda.

A few weeks ago, there was an article on Yahoo.com about a gentleman running for re-election as the District 24 representative in the Maryland House of Delegates. Apparently, the lawmaker either lied or misrepresented himself by stating on his website that he once played in the NFL for the Dallas Cowboys. After some fact-checking, it turned out there was no employment record at all with the team or the league, leaving the candidate with a whole lot of explaining to do about his false claim.

Instead of comments about how foolish the incumbent – or a staff member – was for putting that on his website or how funny it was to mention playing for Dallas while running for public office in a suburb filled with arch-rival Washington Redskin fans, the comments were mostly off-the-wall, off-the-subject prejudices.

“Sounds like a Democrat for sure,” wrote the first commenter. “All Democrats lie.”

The remark ignited a plethora of conservative allies to chime in with their own put-downs, exaggerations, stereotypes, and other frivolous points about liberals and Democrats. All of which were countered and cross-countered by statements from the left. The senseless left-right, ping-pong critique went on for pages and pages, none of which had a thing to do with the fairly comical newsworthy article.

Just the other day there was an online Time magazine story regarding the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (aka the stimulus package). Whether one agrees with the spending or not, it was a nice factual read regarding some of the programs, industries, and technology advancements that the government is supporting.

Despite a very in depth article that pinpointed exact businesses and their respective scientific and technology breakthroughs that the government is hoping will improve the economy and the environment, immediately the senseless mudslinging began.

“There goes the Obama, liberal media again!” was one comment.

“Even good ideas can’t be put to good use by idiots,” was another.

“How The Stimulus Is Changing America: It’s called Bankruptcy,” chimed in someone.

“Where is the jobs you idiots,” was the very next comment. “We are dying out here and the ‘blame Bush’ honeymoon is over.”

Comments about the lack of jobs are certainly valid since there are hard-working people actually out there seriously looking for employment and not just spending their days filling up message boards with pointless opposition based on party affiliation. But, immediate job creation was not the essence of this particular story.

The reporter highlighted certain technologies, mostly clean energy, that the government invested in with the hopes that they will replace the current petroleum-based, foreign-dependent sources we use now. The article informed the public of new industries and products that could possibly lead us into a better, cleaner, more brighter economic future was the gist.

Yet, not one comment mentioned any of the article or its specific points.

It’s as if most commenters didn’t read the article in the first place. Upon reaching the conclusion that it might be a pro-Obama or government piece, they immediately jumped to the message board to condemn it. And that is not only unfortunate, but ignorant.

There is a much bigger picture in play here. That is the importance of America to be the leader when it comes to new technology and clean energy. Technology led us out of a slowdown in the early ’90s and it will do so again. If there is ever to be a future for our kids and grandkids on this planet, these new advancements not only need to be created, but implemented. And since we live in America, it is best that it is US leading that creation, which in turn will lead to better tomorrow, both economicially and environmentally.

And that was the nucleus of the article, which was lost in the agenda-driven commentary.

It is a free country and readers can post whatever they want – no matter how astute, poignant, baseless, absurd, or off-tangent it may be (after all it’s all subjective in the end, right?). It would be nice, though, if more people gave the author and his or her article their due by at least reading the piece and then commenting on its substance (or lack thereof).

Then maybe we’ll see intelligence, not ignorance, rise as the popularity in social media continues to take off.

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