Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Social Media, Perception, and Lack of Critical Analysis

In a social media-saturated culture we are offered any number of stories and photos insisting that certain events or images are indisputably true. Take, for example, the following pair of photographs:

The captions suggest that there is something lacking in the 2015 photo. Is it simply the lack of American flags? Or is it something deeper, something more sinister—like a lack of patriotism in the current US president and the people who rally around him? Hmmmm . . .

There is clearly a lack of American flags in the lower photograph. That photo, however, has been cropped. When you search around and find a more expansive shot of the same scene, you get this:

There are, indeed, flags present. Instead of being waved in victory in the crowd, they are proudly displayed at the front of the buildings along the street. The first photograph is a celebration; the second is a memorial. Both have flags.

Only two things would keep people from making this discovery:

1. A desire that the dark, sinister version of the story would be true; and/or
2. A lack of critical analysis.

We see this kind of thing all the time on social media. I’ve recently seen social media threads expressing dismay over the dismissal of employees at Christian organizations in three different states. The comments that follow the stories are overwhelmingly supportive of the seemingly wronged employees and offer harsh criticisms of the offending organizations.

From what I can tell, the comments come from people who are bright and well-educated. But the streams of comments appear to lack two important elements:

1. A voice at the conversation table by someone who expresses an alternative view.
2. Any sense of critical analysis

Consequently, the story ends up offering only one side, and that side may or not be accurate. We could be looking at a cropped picture, but it’s difficult for us to tell.

Which is why the lack of critical analysis is so alarming to me.

I’m struggling to understand how these intelligent people would read an account of conflict on the Internet and offer unbridled support without making some attempt to understand the larger picture. As I’ve looked over these threads of discussion, I have not been able to find anyone speaking who suggests that there might be a more to consider before making a judgment on the situation. I’m troubled by that. I’m troubled at the absence of healthy, well-intended critical analysis.

I’d hate to be arrested for a crime, and then sent to trial, only to discover that the judge and jury have decided to only allow the prosecutor to speak, giving the defender no opportunity to make a case on my behalf. But in our social media world, we get to do that all the time.

And the whole world listens in.

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