We live in a world that thrives on media hype. Forget the details and facts. Forget context, background, and objectivity. Forget innocent until proven guilty. Instead, a video/picture/tweet of something offensive goes out and becomes viral, and suddenly the public at large decides it’s time to voice its outrage.
I’m going to try to write this post without sparking debate on any one specific current event. Is that possible? I’m not sure. I want to discuss not the right and wrong of individual incidents, but the overall phenomenon of viral anger.
What gets me about it is that people’s lives are affected (ranging from inconvenienced to completely ruined, depending on the level of the media-based outrage) because the public decides they should be – and in some cases, the public is wrong! Check out this article about a waitress who claimed she didn’t receive a tip because she’s gay. If you have the stomach for it, scroll down and read the comments, all negative and often profane, all passing sweeping judgments on conservatives in America. When the story broke, the waitress received donations of financial support from complete strangers, while those same strangers hurled venomous hatred towards the supposedly offending family.
Now read this article. The waitress lied. The family actually behaved as civil members of society should – tipping her for her service and NOT writing the offensive message that she posted in a Facebook photo.
In this case, the truth came out, but the damage was still done. I’m sure this poor family has dealt with a ton of negative backlash that they don’t deserve. People donated money to a woman who turned out to be a compulsive liar. Remember when I said you should know where your money goes? This is why!
Why do we feel that it’s OK, and even necessary, to react so strongly based on something so small as a random Facebook photo? Something that doesn’t begin to encompass the whole picture of any given situation? Granted, the media doesn’t help, sensationalizing everything for the sake of an audience, rather than focusing on truth and fair reporting. But still, each individual is responsible for their own reactions, and we owe it to our fellow members of society to try to see the whole picture before we pass judgement, instead of leaping to conclusions. In this case, the family was the victim, but you wouldn’t know it based on the initial knee-jerk reactions of the masses.
In the grand scheme of modern western culture, the lying waitress is a fairly low-key example. It’s safe to discuss here and still keep the focus on my main point of mass judgments. If I were to go into the really hot-button news stories, then my point would be lost as people misinterpreted or vehemently disagreed with anything I said about one example or another. But you know what I’m referring to:
The George Zimmerman/Treyvon Martin shooting. The police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. Ray Rice. Adrian Peterson. Shall I go on?
We used to trust our justice system. We used to believe in due process and the right to be considered innocent until proven guilty. Now apparently we believe in social media and snap judgments on a massive scale.
I’m not saying all or any of the people listed above were in the right. I’m not saying that people in the news haven’t done bad things that deserve justice. But should that justice really be mob justice?
Mob justice ruins lives. Homes and communities are destroyed. Support systems are yanked out from under not only the individual targets, but their families as well. Jobs are lost, and so goes their means of supporting those who depend on them. Many of the targets of this kind of public outrage receive death threats. That isn’t justice based on due process and objective consideration. That’s revenge and malicious hatred, all based on media hype and limited knowledge of the facts.
And there’s such a double standard, too! Many of the same people who are angry at Ray Rice still listen to the music of Chris Brown! Why does society want to completely ruin the life of one man who hit his girlfriend while they still celebrate another as a rock star? I’m not saying that what either one did is OK, by any means. I’m pointing out the inconsistencies in the mass-media hyped-up viral anger.
Does one mistake really mean someone deserves to have his entire life, livelihood, and support system completely ruined? Do we really want to be in the habit of passing violent, vengeful judgement on others based on limited facts? Because what if the tables turn someday? What happens when (God forbid) we become the target of our own mob mentality? Maybe we’ll make a mistake that we’ll horribly regret and want to work past, but society won’t let us. Or maybe we’ll be in the wrong place at the wrong time and have skewed facts published about us. Maybe somebody will outright lie about us, like that waitress did. Do we want to be the ones receiving the death threats and other trappings mob justice?
Teens, I’m really looking to you for help on this one. As you grow into adulthood, shape your own culture into one that’s better than what we have now. Media influence isn’t going away. Get into practice now at how you’ll respond to something offensive in the news. Watch out for falling into the trap of believing the hype without knowing all the facts. Give people the benefit of the doubt until they’re proven guilty, instead of working yourself into an angry frenzy over the subjective hype of media reporting. Even then, remember that justice and revenge aren’t the same things. Don’t be so quick to want to ruin someone’s life. It could be yours someday.