As I said, this is not about the ALS ice bucket challenge, but the challenge does illustrate the point. Someone somewhere poured a bucket of cold water on someone else’s head to raise money for a cause. Others saw it and copied it. For a while it was a unique and creative thing. Now it has become de rigueur for celebrities, politicians, and athletes to promote themselves while taking the challenge. There is a “me too” or “monkey see monkey do” narcissism about this social media stuff that sometimes makes me cringe. Why do we have this incessant desire to copy what others do or say? It’s been a question for time immemorial. Moses had that problem in the desert when the Children of Israel worshiped a golden calf. The Spanish Inquisition, Stalinesque communism and even the current ISIS holocaust in Iraq provided the masses with an unthinking, follow-the-leader-and-forget-about-truth mentality that resulted in utterly evil destruction of peoples and society.
Lessons from the ice bucket
Unless you are living in a sealed environment you have seen, challenged or been challenged to the ice bucket fundraising for ALS. Some have had fun with it. I have seen some very creative responses. Some have argued with it and denigrated it. I have seen sometimes poignant and sometimes offensive objections to the ice box challenge.
This post is not about the rights or wrongs of the ice bucket challenge. Rather, I want to reflect upon the astounding success—the viral success—of the challenge. It is not the first such campaign to consume the social media world of course, nor will it be the last. But it makes me wonder about the thinking that causes one item go viral while something else does not.
It\’s not just good causes that go viral. Conspiracies theories develop a life of their own on social media. False stories, political claptrap and faked photos and videos do the rounds, die away, and then miraculously do the rounds again. The thing is, people get sucked in time and time again and never seem to be able to differentiate good from bad, true from false.
Could it be that a large majority of people today, all over the world, have lost the power of discernment? Could it be that the concept of independent thinking has been so beaten out of people (metaphorically speaking of course) that people have become like sheep and follow a fad, a trend, a person, a cause, without thought? Social media provides anonymous and somehow unconnected connections to coalesce around situations or concepts. Yet here I am, using social media to promote my thoughts and give a platform for my books.
Social media, like mass media, has the capacity to do great good or great harm in our modern world. It can spread truth or evil. It can promote or destroy. One careless comment on Twitter has already ruined careers and caused employment loss for hundreds, perhaps thousands. Deserved? Sometimes, perhaps. But as Jesus pointed out, only cast the stones if you yourself have never uttered or shared offhand or insensitive remarks. I, for one, would not be able to meet that standard.
The missing link is discernment and rational thought. Why do people carelessly “retweet”, “like” or “share” without taking a moment to think about it? Is it out of line to suggest that a little research, a little scrutiny, a little sceptical thinking be utilized before carelessly spreading a story?
Let me close with an illustration. I mentioned false stories. I was inundated a couple of years ago with heartfelt pleas from my Canadian friends via email and Facebook to stand up against evil, anti-Christian thinking in government that was planning to remove the phrase “In God we trust” from our currency. Really? Canadian currency has no such statement anywhere. Never has. But my Canadian friends thoughtlessly spread this nonsense (which obviously emanated from the United States which does have that statement) without considering either the truth behind it or who initiated this fabricated nonsense.
I sometimes despair for the human race.
Kudos for the money raised for ALS (a despicable disease) and other causes that have benefited from the ice bucket challenge.
Despite that, I will be my usual skeptical journalistic self and question the veracity of a lot of the junk that passes across the social media.
But before I do, I am going to my ice bucket, take a chunk of ice and drop it into my drink.