I would like to think that many, perhaps even most, of us are doing the best we can to be good people. What constitutes a “good person” will vary, of course, but in a general sense it involves some level of kindness, generosity and consciousness. One thing I know for sure about being a good person, though, is that it is not a competition.
In the sometimes magnified world of social media, however, practices like call-outs and pile-ons seem to suggest that other people feel otherwise.
If someone makes a problematic or offensive statement, I’m all for saying something. If no one ever objected to a questionable statement, no one would ever learn anything new, right? We’d all just be walking around in a bubble of unchecked ignorance. That seems like a bad idea on so many levels. I have learned (and hopefully will continue to learn) heaps of stuff from awesome mates who have shown me different perspectives and information. However, calling out a poor opinion seems to have become a bit of a team sport.
Whether it’s a stranger online or someone you know, I think it’s okay (sometimes even absolutely necessary) to say something and offer your reasoning. Especially if you can keep it civil. No small task, I know, but probably the only way someone will ever actually hear what you’re saying.
But calling someone out in a way that is harsh, dismissive, condescending or patronising? Does anyone ever respond positively to that? I can tell you, from my own experience of being the call-er and the call-ee (totally a word) that they do not. Having multiple people on call-out duty doesn’t further drive the point home, either.
Sometimes, it’s really hard to say nothing. To feel an enormous opposition to the thing you’re reading and not add your voice to the already-long list of objections. I know this because I struggle to keep on scrolling, some days. This is definitely something I am working on, especially knowing that lengthy and robust discussion threads have their place!
In theory, if Person A offers a problematic opinion, persons B through to Z objecting should make a good case for Person A changing their position. Surely the number of objections should chip away at that belief and help to convince Person A to rethink? I will be the first to raise my hand; I thought this was how it probably worked. Evidence to the contrary *should* change our views. If a whole bunch of people tell us about this evidence, that *should* encourage us to re-examine our positions.
However, we are humans. And humans, it turns out, are contrary arsehats by nature.
The Backfire Effect
This is a legit thing. The Backfire Effect is when we are presented with cool, hard facts that prove our position to be incorrect. Years and years of discussing vaccination on the internet means I have witnessed this over and over again, but now I know the actual name for it.
Showing a person evidence that proves their belief incorrect actually has the opposite effect. It instead reinforces a person’s belief that they are right. So if 25 people tell them that they are wrong, pile-on style, they are prone to become even more defensive and protective of their position.
This is not a new thing at all but does seem to have snowballed. Yes, we should speak up in the face of harmful, dangerous or offensive commentary. No, we don’t have to leave such things unchallenged. But perhaps we could leave off trying to find things to criticise?
A friend posted a photo on social media of her delicious-looking breakfast. Shortly after, someone felt the need to call-out my friend about the egg industry killing chicks en masse. Not even questioning the source of my friend’s breakfast eggs, just an immediate need to tell her that her breakfast made her a terrible person. Another person chimed in, reinforcing the terrible crime of consuming eggs for breakfast and essentially congratulating the person calling attention to the plight of chickens.
It’s not that chickens aren’t important but rather that my friend was singled out and critiqued without evidence and out of context to make that person feel morally superior.
It’s not a competition!
None of us are perfect. People in our own spheres may still be learning their way, be it a feminist Facebook group, an environmental activist group or even a parenting support forum. Righteous anger has it’s place in the world and I’m not interested in policing people’s emotions. I just want to put it out there that if you have a desire to help someone understand something, a little patience and picking your moments can also go a long way.
Whether someone has eggs for breakfast or unknowingly uses insensitive or offensive terminology, aggressive call-outs and/or piling on them often aren’t about helping that person to do better.
It’s behaviour that either reinforces the opinion we might be railing against, or it silences and alienates people who only want to learn and become better allies. We have to stop pretending that this behaviour (of which I have certainly been guilty #notevenclosetoperfect #stilllearning) is entirely rooted in good intentions.
It seems like, sometimes, it’s not about becoming a better activist or advocate. It’s more like a quest to be the BEST activist or advocate. To *win* a discussion or debate. There’s no prize, gang, and it doesn’t seem to get us anywhere.
Some good reads on stuff like this:
@IBOT @ Capturing Life.