Virality is still a somewhat-foreign concept in our ever-changing society. Rooted in the creation of social platforms such as YouTube, Facebook and, later, Twitter, viral content is a force that is being heavily scrutinized in an effort to help it be understood and used efficiently.
While the circulation of communication can certainly be praised for a magnitude of reasons — from spreading urgent messages to inspiring action unlike anything possible in the past, there is no question that such technological assets also have created a dismal confusion for many people.
Take last week, for example. You’re glued to the TV, and on initial glance, Steve Harvey’s mis-crowning of the 2016 Miss Universe winner was embarrassing and awkward, but a mistake that could have happened to anyone.
Like many, I watched the YouTube clips that followed. Did I laugh? Sure, perhaps out of discomfort. Did I cringe at the almost unbearable awkwardness? Of course — it was worse than dancing at bar mitzvahs. However, interestingly enough, what made me the most upset was not the action as it occurred, or anything at all committed by Harvey, but rather the many reactions given in response.
Discouraging tweets and posts repeatedly surfaced on timelines, referring to the event’s emcee as incompetent, stupid and careless, just to name a few. In fact, it wasn’t long before Harvey’s name was trending on multiple social-media platforms, and not long after that when articles began to be published on esteemed publications, getting those unaware of the night’s gaffe up to speed. The morning after, a headline in the New York Post read: “Steve Harvey Blew It And Crowned The Wrong Miss Universe.” (This in addition to the distribution of the video on virtually every news station as the media jumped on the misstep.)
While many may look at this media coverage without giving it a second thought, digging deeper illuminates a rapidly growing problem in our culture — a negative and unfairly reactive nature.
It’s hard to go even a day without news coverage surrounding criticism on a given statement or action, and in an era dominated by an overt need to be politically correct, our ability and willingness to react without appropriate research or context is at an all-time high.
While the negative effects of virality may be most prominent today in the media’s biased coverage of politics and the sound bites compiled, there are also other situations that have drawn heavy focus. Take the resolution that was rejected last month at the University of Minnesota, one that would have called for a moment of recognition on 9/11 anniversaries. Or the recent controversy surrounding Tina Fey and an accusation about a racist character on her show “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” to which she responded: “There’s a real culture of demanding apologies, and I’m opting out of that.”
It’s true, whether right or wrong, that apologies aren’t what we need. We need to use these experiences and opportunities to improve our society, to learn from our mistakes — and this doesn’t happen with finger-pointing and reacting barbarically from behind a screen. This happens by using mistakes and mishaps as forms of educating — something we are seeing less and less of as we become more comfortable with our anonymous commentary.
As societal tensions grow in regard to politics, race, religion and more, it is becoming increasingly important to be able to hold open and honest dialogues without worrying about potential backlash.
While this does not mean going out of your way to preach hate, it does mean feeling empowered to ask questions, seek clarification, challenge the status quo and freely speak your mind in an effort to search for answers from those around you.
Legislative changes should go viral. Acts of human good should go viral. Simple and forgivable mistakes should not turn into clickbait and viral videos — by doing so we are only negatively reinforcing authentic and human behavior.
Social media is fantastic for many reasons, and the fact that it can provide an outlet for anonymous and unwarranted commentary doesn’t mean it has to or should be used in such a manner.
We need to strive for holding necessary parties accountable, but without belaboring the matter. We need to be willing to ask and give forgiveness, but with a lesson attached. We need to learn how to react intelligently and with good intentions. By doing anything to the contrary, we are not in any way progressing.
Jon Savitt is a writer and journalist living in Minneapolis. On Twitter: @Savittj.