No comment: the value of restraint in the digital age

This past week, there was a little drama in the race for New Mexico’s 1st Congressional District. Sheridan Lund, the precinct chair of the Democratic Party of Bernalillo County and candidate for the congressional seat, tweeted a now-deleted attack on one of the candidates. The charge being leveled was that Victor Reyes, a former top aide to New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and one of the candidates for the congressional seat, was only pretending to be a person of color. Reyes is a second-generation Mexican-American. Many of the other candidates running for Congress in this district released statements condemning the attack. What interested me is that at the time that the offending tweet was deleted, it only had about two likes and two negative quote tweets. 

My recent tweet about Fortnite skins got more likes than these poorly thought-out musings on colorism. By responding to Lund’s message, every candidate in the race was able to accrue some political capital and establish themselves as the candidate of racial justice. But they shouldn’t have responded. 

This falls in with a trend with which I’ve taken issue recently: treating certain social media posts as much more influential than they actually are. 

Media literacy is important and constantly evolving. Today I am offering an additional digital rule of thumb: Don’t engage with posts that don’t have traction (likes, shares, etc.). If a post doesn’t have engagement, that is the internet’s way of telling you that no one really found the post to be compelling, so you won’t actually be swaying any opinions by condemning it. Actors on the digital landscape, no matter how large or small the audience, have a responsibility to only respond to a piece of media they disagree with if it has an actual audience. Otherwise, they aren’t countering the sway of the original idea. 

On the contrary, they are amplifying it to their audience who wouldn’t have been exposed to it in the first place. Those who devote themselves to criticizing irrelevant posts that gained no traction on the merits of the idea presented are distorting the narrative — and doing a disservice to themselves and their audience in the process. 

Highlighting the fringe is how many figures of the online political influencer class make their livings. Ben Shapiro, probably the most influential conservative online pundit, recently released a YouTube video entitled “Leftists OUTRAGED Over Bill Burr Jokes at 2021 Grammys.” The premise of the video is that there are currently swathes of rabid Democrats who want to take your comedy away from you, a premise engineered to infuriate his audience. This simply wasn’t true. 

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