I listened to an NPR podcast about anger the other day called, Screaming into the Void. I’ve been thinking about the outrage/shame culture on social media as well as the distorted thinking that results when the brain is flooded with anger and that anger is shared and spread on social media.
First, I’m going to get vulnerable. The attacks against Rojava and the Kurdish people in Northern Syria has made me more angry than anything has in a while. Anger happens when something happens that is wrong and also should not have happened. If we had a competent president, this would NOT have happened. I’ve also felt ashamed of my country for betraying an ally. I’ve felt afraid of the possible consequences of this geopolitical debacle. I’ve also felt confused and alone and powerless. I’ve also been grieving for the pain of people I care about. That’s a lot of emotion!
I am going to get more vulnerable. I’ve been caught up in the anger and shame culture of social media more than once. Twitter is especially hard for me to manage as the entire platform is fueled by outrage. I’ve fallen into several traps. Most recently, I posted a picture on Facebook that I came across on Twitter only to realize later that the picture was not what I had been led to believe. All the self-righteousness fury was taken out of my sails as the humiliating reality set in that I had been fooled.
I try to be really careful what I consume as news. I pride myself on checking and double checking to make sure something is authentic, but something about the picture I came across seemed to connect with the emotions I was feeling and I didn’t even think to verify it. I just saved it and then shared what I had read. I’ve never had to issue a retraction before and since I’m not a real journalist, I don’t know how to do it anyway.
So there you go. I’ve been vulnerable about my own foibles when it comes to disinformation! What is disinformation? It is something of a modern concept that has arisen in the information/social media age that involves the cherry picking of actual facts, exaggerations, and falsehoods to create a believable string of lies.
We are living in a culture where disinformation is rampant. Wading through massive amounts of online information and disinformation can result in confusion, conflict, and eventually cynicism. I remember a conversation I had with my parents. It went something like this.
“Mom, I’ve known about the Steele Dossier since it first came out. It was started as opposition research by the political right to take down Donald Trump in the primary. After that the Democrats took over.”
She replied something like, “No, it was Fusion GPS that paid for the dossier and it was proven to be a complete pack of lies. Fusion GPS was a shell company that Hilary Clinton used to hide behind.”
I became frustrated, “I’ve never heard of Fusion GPS. What the heck is that!?! The dossier was compiled by Christopher Steele, a reputable Russia expert and British spy. He’s basically James Bond and everybody wants to make him out to be some crook!”
And on we went. Each confused by the other person and their set of fake news “facts.” After doing some research, I realized I didn’t know as much about the dossier as I thought I did. It turns out my mom knew something I didn’t! Fusion GPS did fund the dossier. It was a shell company. My mom was right about that particular thing although we still disagree about whether the dossier was produced in good faith and had anything worth investigating. In this case, I didn’t know as much as I thought I did. My own store of knowledge on the subject had deceived me into believing that I had all the knowledge when I actually didn’t. I’ve thought a lot about that conversation and tried to stay more humble and open minded. When I start thinking I am in possession of all the facts, sometimes I miss important things or dismiss another person’s valid perspective. Those are things I’m working on.
One of the hardest things I’ve had to learn as I’ve been using my voice more is to give myself permission to make mistakes. If I get angry and cause a kerfuffle on Facebook, I go back to the old patterns of thinking that I am all wrong and should never have said anything or given myself permission to feel anything. Then I get depressed and angry at myself. That anger directed at myself is so toxic.
When I express my emotions and my views and my words effect others, they are responsible for the way they deal with that. If they choose to blame and shame me, they can’t be my friends. If they don’t respect my right to express my views in my own way, they can’t be my friends. That includes insisting that I am always “nice.” I’m not a nice person. I am me. If you don’t like me, that’s okay. No one has to be my friend. My circle of friends is getting smaller, but that’s okay. Life isn’t a popularity contest. All I need are a few good friends who will stand by me in the rough times. I have that cluster of friends and I am blessed.
Eventually I will probably be able to widen my circle again to include people I can’t be with right now. Once I’m stronger and I’m more confident in my boundaries and myself, I can allow my compassion to run freely again. My biggest problem is, I care too much. I love too much. I project my own characteristics onto others and often, the reflection I see isn’t real. Some people don’t have very much empathy or self-awareness. Some people can’t be trusted in the sensitive places of my heart. That’s a hard lesson for me to learn.
As one of the few within my social group who has been willing or had the desire to speak out against the authoritarian cancer that has infected the political right, I play an important role in what Elder M. Russel Ballard has asked us to do: to pray for our nation, learn about our nation’s founding, and follow the spirit to know what to do to help our country in her hour of need. Who knows but that God has given me a voice for such a time as this!
Satan is also working hard. The forces of darkness rage against the norms and laws that have kept us free and prosperous. I’ve never seen so much conflict and division! Just yesterday on Twitter Donald Trump called the Never Trump people “human scum” and demanded that his administration discriminate against them when hiring. This is illegal, but lately that isn’t much of a surprise. The President has no respect for laws which he believes himself to be above. His supporters either choose not to see it or they just don’t care.
The truth seems to be more and more obscure and unattainable. Facts are shifting under our feet on a superhighway of sand. I am battle weary from speaking uncomfortable truths into the void of social media. My anger is spent. Its time for others to step into the gap. Ignorance is a comfortable choice, but truth can be found. Our Lord and Savior knows all things. I know that He has not abandoned his people. I know that he can reveal to each of us what we need to know in these troubled times. We are enough to save our nation. With His help, I know we can preserve and defend our constitution against this unprecedented onslaught.
It is a time of choosing. Do we believe in Democracy and the rule of the people? Do we believe in our message to the world of liberty and equality under the law? Do we have the confidence that we can win fairly in elections using our own ideas and power of persuasion without interference from hostile foreign nations? Do we have the courage to look within our own factions and parties to align ourselves with the truth before we point the finger of blame at our adversaries? If we do, it is time to speak up for what is right. It’s time to start treating our political opponents fairly. Its time to insist that our elected representatives behave civilly and follow the law. It is time. A time of choosing.