Dear friends, I have a confession: Today I shared a piece of gossip to over 100k people about a group of people I don’t even know.
I didn’t realize the error until hours after I had pressed “post,” but in that short time, my vision of social media and its potency was forever changed.
Let me explain.
This morning while scrolling through my timeline I came across an image of a black woman, fist in the air, standing in front of a group of people who seemed to be marching for a united cause.
The caption read: One Woman vs. 300 Neo Nazis.
I clicked on the link and saw a 70 second video showing the same single image cut together with an explanation that she was protesting a “Neo Nazi march.” The video labeled her an “anti racism activist” and compared her to the famous peace leader Nelson Mandela.
I was immediately moved by the video. I hit “share” on Facebook and proceeded to post the link to my twitter feed.
I am sure many of you might be questioning the error I speak of. Likely you have seen, and maybe even shared, the same video. It evokes historical images of heroes fighting for a noble cause, people standing for what’s right beyond any adversity! Inspiring, right?
Upon greater examination, I realized that I wasn’t looking at an image of Nelson Mandela or Gandhi, and that sharing that video supported the same prejudice and short-sightedness I was naively attempting to address in the first place. I was alienating and judging a whole group of people with no data, no context, and no understanding of what they were marching for in the first place. Now, clearly I do not agree with what I understand to be the philosophy behind the Neo Nazi party, but that’s not the point I am making. And interestingly enough, that’s not the point the video displayed either.
From an objective standpoint we simply saw a group of people, in uniform, marching together for a united reason. There was no violent action happening, no attack – there weren’t even clear signs posted or statements being made about the intent of the group. If not for the caption, I wouldn’t have known what was going on.
But because of my own prejudicial perspective and desire to jump on the bandwagon of a “righteous cause” I directly supported the very issue I so strongly oppose.
There is a quote, sometimes attributed to Voltaire or his biographer Evelyn Beatrice Hall, that goes something like: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
I thought I believed this, but what I demonstrated was not that. It was prejudice, gossip and trial by media.
Without thought, without data, without any valid or founded reasons to back my accusations, I vilified a group of people to deify a single woman.
I believe this happens more than we like to admit. But seeing it is the first step.
Prejudice, violence and hate cannot be overcome using the same process in another form.
Drawing unfounded conclusions and supporting biased propaganda no matter the context is the downfall of civilized communication and just evaluations.
It is so, so tempting to confirm our beliefs through what we think we see, but true ethics comes from the clarity to question all sides and uphold a principle equally in all cases.
I apologize to those I affected. Given the nature of my work I have earned a certain platform of influence. When I impulsively voiced my opinion, I abused the privilege of this platform. The sacredness of the trust placed in me by others demands thoughtful consideration of voiced opinions. From now on I vow to honor your support and attention with the responsibility and care it deserves. I will do all I can to learn from this mistake and spend my time and energy in support of what I truly care about: peace, compassion, honor and justice – in the most noble sense.
If you agree with what I’m raising and want to help increase awareness about these issues, please share this letter.