Social Networking, Conspiracies, and Extremism


As a navy veteran, I’ve met people from all walks of life from regions around the country.  Some of them ascribe to a more liberal point of view, while others swear by their conservatism.  That’s fine.  I don’t discriminate my friends based on their political viewpoints (within reason.  Racism is a deal-breaker).

Therefore, when I go on my Facebook or Twitter, it’s not unusual to see some politically inflammatory posts that I don’t agree with.  I don’t usually block these posts.  After all, as a self-described moderate, I’m interested in what all sides have to say about particular subjects.

But in today’s politically polarized America, it’s become increasingly common to see some truly ridiculous conspiracies make their way onto my feed.  Some of these have been on the left, in the form of 9/11 “Truthers” who believe the government was behind the attacks (something I find to be both insane and offensive).  But recently, these unhinged posts have largely come from the right, in the “Obama is a dictator in the making,” archetype.

For example, at the picture at the top of this post, a Facebook post describes a secret plan being hatched by the “Obama cabal,” that would give President Obama a third term in office.  This is, of course, complete nonsense, but if you look at the comments, you’ll find plenty of people who believe this.  These are also people who believe anyone elected who isn’t a Republican or other kind of “conservative,” must be a Marxist or some other Anti-American out to destroy our way of life.

Picture 15

This picture is another example of such propaganda.  Adapted from the Martin Niemöller quote about the slow rise of Nazi oppression in Germany, this picture created by someone on the right basically equates President Obama with Hitler.  Clearly, subtlety wasn’t their goal here.  “Communists” and “Socialists” have been replaced by “Gun Owners” and “Constitutionalists,” but the point remains the same.

Now, if you’re a Democrat or liberal leaning independent, you may be thinking, “Damn!  These are horrible!  I must log onto Facebook and comment on these posts to shame these people and their misguided beliefs!”  Well, you’d be in good company.  To read the comment threads under these posts is to see political rock-throwing at its worst, as people argue back and forth about the validity of these posts and the beliefs they represent.  Because, you know, yelling at each other over the Internet is always such a productive cause.

You see, there’s a reason why I haven’t named the pages/profiles in this blog post and, in fact, blocked them out on the picture at the top: To comment on these posts only encourages them.  While I think it’s a good idea to call attention to this kind of B.S., it’s a bad idea to actually go and interact with it over social networks.  Just like all those Facebook “Like Scams,” you’ve probably seen, to comment on these posts only promotes them, since posts with higher levels of activity are given higher priority and visibility.  That’s how Facebook works!  And if it’s one thing I don’t want to do, it’s feed the B.S. beast.

So, if you dislike controversial and extreme posts (as I do, whether it comes from the left or right), a word of advice: Don’t comment on them.  Simply block them out, and send your offending friend a private message: Don’t believe everything you read on the internet.

ADDENDUM: I tried searching for the actual sources of the above pictures for attribution.  The Nazi reference one has been used in so many different fashions on so many sites, it’s impossible to pinpoint.  The first one regarding Obama’s “third term,” however, is from the Weekly World News.  Way to go!

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