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The Propaganda Wars Of Social Media

By Jesse Jost

I love that we have social media platforms to share perspectives and be educated by different opinions. In the past, we only got our information from authorized sources. This ability to share information freely should be a safeguard against governments’ attempts to use propaganda to control us.

But on these platforms like Facebook and Twitter, it’s easy to post and share without deep reflection. Also the brain-exciting notification makes us addicted to the need for positive, self-affirming feedback.

I think these two aspects of social media are playing a role in how polarized our countries are becoming. When I’m trying to form an educated perspective on what’s happening and how I should respond, it drives me crazy sometimes that the issue in question is hijacked by becoming politicized.

The right (conservatives) or the left (liberals) seem to quickly, unconsciously form what will be the official position of that group, long before we have time to sort out the facts!

Once the issue has been dissected and the different parts labeled right wing, or left wing, or what ever group you are in, there is so much social pressure to share only perspectives that agree with your group.

Any questioning of the issue that sounds or even smells like what the other side is promoting gets you labelled as the enemy, or worse, uninformed or gullible.

Take Covid-19, for example. When this virus started spread, we quickly entered unchartered territory about how to respond. We had so little data about how lethal it really was, how it spread, and what the cost in human lives would be.

There were tough choices to make in terms of what actions our leaders would take to protect our countries.

Before the true facts about Covid came out, the issue was already polarized. Conservative circles seemed to down-play the danger of the virus, questioned the reports about how dangerous the virus really was, and fought the lockdown as government takeover.

Liberals shared the stories about how lethal the virus really was and how overrun the hospitals were and what happened in Italy, and how we needed even tougher restrictions on lockdown.

If you cared or shared about the economy, you were labeled conservative. If you shared concern about the death toll, you were liberal.

Now don’t get me wrong. Those were important questions to be raised and points to be made. But the fact that each position and area of concern got labelled as left or right so quickly made it so difficult to sort out what to believe!

To question the lockdown made you look like a conservative and brought down on you the wrath of the liberal side. To question if this virus might actually be dangerous, made you look like a liberal, and brought down the wrath of the conservative side.

Both sides had flashy charts and dramatic stories, both sides had confident M.D.s and PhD. The memes and articles quickly created a sense that your side had the truth and the other side was duped by lies.

This was maddening, because if the virus really was less dangerous than the common flu, we needed to know! If the government really was using this as an excuse to take away our rights, we needed to sound the alarm bells! But if the virus really was dangerous, and caused more deaths than we first thought, we needed to know that too.

While social media prevents single-source, government-controlled propaganda, it also creates the threat of politically motivated misinformation and other forms of propaganda.

“Facts” that fit and support the chosen political perspective get shared and repeated even before we know if they are true or not.

Memes effectively set up “straw man” portrayals of the other side’s concerns and make them look blind, ignorant, or stupid.

When we see the other side this way, we grow more angry toward them and feel more threatened by their dangerous, corrupt stupidity.

This anger and fear makes us more quick to use derogatory language toward them.

 The other side reacts to this angry rhetoric by responding in kind.

As hostility grows between the parties, it’s even harder to hear the important concerns that each side has!

We are facing such confusing times right now! More than ever, we need to be following James’s advice to be “quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to wrath.”

 We desperately need to be listening carefully to other perspectives and not just propagating and repeating our own.

Try to make a habit of reading both sides of an issue. Take masks, for example. Ask,  what are the strongest arguments for both sides of the issue? Can you articulate the other side’s arguments for why they wear or don’t wear a mask in a way that would satisfy them?

It’s one thing to reject a perspective, and choose a different conviction. But wisdom pleads with us to be cautious and listen carefully to the other perspectives before becoming dogmatic about the issue.

We want those who disagree with us to be open-minded and listen to our perspective, don’t we? Than we need to do the same thing in return.

Proverbs tells us, “The first one to plead his case seems right, till his neighbour comes and examines him.”

The first perspective to hit your news feed, even if it comes in a clever meme, will not always be the correct or most prudent view of an issue.

Hateful and violent rhetoric is becoming a serious issue and tearing our countries apart. As Jesus followers, we are called to be peace makers, and not divisive.

We need to lead the way by setting an example of those who are quick to listen, and are careful to hear both sides of an issue.

 If you want to share a meme, ask yourself if the other side would think this meme accurately portrays their perspective. Would they agree with how their views are portrayed? If not, don’t share it. We don’t need more people preaching to the converted and making the other side look stupid!

Be careful when you see an issue being labelled left wing or right wing. Seek out thoughtful articles that defend a counter position before crusading for your own view.

Use a gentle tone in your posts and the memes you share that invites dialogue with those who disagree with you. “A harsh word stirs up anger but a soft answer turns away wrath.”

Truth will never be harder to uncover than when both sides are angry!

It’s sad that the memes and posts that will make the other side most angry are the same ones that will garner you the most likes and shares. Don’t alienate the other side for your own ego-stroking!

We are already seeing the hate and poison that has filled the comments section spill over into the streets in violent protests. Let’s turn the tide by recommitting to gentle words and hearts that are careful to listen.

There are concerning issues and faulty perspectives that need to be brought to light!

 I’m not saying to never sound the alarm bell. I’m saying that if we are not careful in how we speak the truth, and come to our conclusions, we will lose a hearing with the people who need to hear our warnings the most.

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