The Polluted Well of Social Media Discourse

These days, I mostly indulge myself with meta-political posts rather than get in the weeds on a specific issue, and when I do get specifically political on Facebook, I see much more clearly now how stupid I’m being. I cannot rationalize taking that hit of sweet, sweet cortisol.

When our current president was elected, I realized that I could not safely feed the beast of angry discourse without polluting the general well. I’m mulling a new idea about social media, that it’s not just the sound-bite meme culture it promotes that has degraded our discourse. Rather, even the posts we labor over have this unintended effect so long as commercial media exists, because commercial media must resort to increasingly debased provocation to get attention.

We should learn something here from Trump. When he complains about “fake news,” he’s not so much creating distrust as tapping into it. This is not the media landscape of the 1930s. We have a real problem with commercial news becoming increasingly unreliable. I invite you to be relentlessly self-critical and alert to strawmen arguments that you find convenient for your outrage. We are being played, as ever, not so much by a conspiracy but as a function of the market and the vulnerabilities in our mental wiring.

I think it’s healthiest both individually and collectively to post on blogs or in private groups, even though it limits your reach. I love engaging with my friends who do thoughtful, provocative wall posts, but I know it’s parasitism. I’m helping them indulge an impulse that may not be psychologically healthy. They bear the brunt of exposure and managing theory of mind about a broad audience of friends. This is different from publishing for mass consumption. I’m convinced that the medium makes it different. I’m still trying to suss out how. As a parasite, I’m not as exposed to my whole friend group and don’t feel the need to manage expectations. This is partially (largely?) a function of how Facebook manages exposure. I engaged a few friends recently on their posts in a way that would have drawn baleful attention on my own wall.

To my friends I engage who are dealing with depression, I suspect that the good feeling I’ve cultivated with you through Facebook discussion imposes an insidious burden on your mental health.

About robertpkruger

Writer, editor, and software developer. Former president of
This entry was posted in Philosophy, Politics, Rhetoric, Social Media, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

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