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Quit Sharing Political Memes on Facebook

21 May

dumb meme

Most of my Facebook friends agree with me ideologically. This is because we self-select each other, because most of us are writers, educators, and scholars, and these professions tend to lean leftward, and because I have unfollowed, unfriended, even blocked most of the active right wingers that have shown up in my news feed over the years. I’ve seen right-wing memes over time that I can’t unsee, gobs of hateful stupidity that sends my heart racing and kills my faith in human beings (never very strong to begin with). I don’t have the time, inclination, or emotional energy to fend off that kind of thing–and since I don’t have to, I don’t. I try to ignore the occasional troll popping up in one of my friend’s posts–and if they pop up on one of my posts, I simply delete them. They’re probably Russian-bots anyway, so why bother engaging?

Having solved the problem of right-wing nonsense in my little virtual cockpit, however, hasn’t flown me to paradise. Far from it. The problem is left-wing nonsense. Every time I open Facebook, I’m exposed to memes whose political ideas I for the most part agree with, or at least tolerate, so I keep the Facebook friendship intact, and keep myself open to more of these memes. What’s been grinding on me lately is the amazed thought that so many of my Facebook friends–smart, thoughtful, educated people in real life–post and share and like and comment favorably upon memes of dubious origin, memes that make claims with no sourcing, present no evidence for their infuriating claims, memes whose ultimate purpose–the same purpose of all political memes–is to make one group of Americans hate another group of Americans. The argument in favor of these memes is that these groups deserve to be hated. I refuse to think this way and live this way. I refuse to be lumped into a group and set to oppose other groups. Scoundrels earn my scorn one individual at a time, not in giant demographic clusters.

You may have seen the meme, several schoolchildren sitting on a bench beside a great master painting in a museum, each kid’s face buried in a phone screen. The idea is simple: Young people today are terrible. This meme’s been around for years, coming back to life even after being discredited as fraudulently misleading. The story behind the meme is that the kids were on a school field trip, and their assignment was to look at the paintings, and then, using the museum’s own app, research information on that painting–an excellent use of educational technology. Two of my Facebook friends over the last month have posted this meme along with some grouchy line about kids today, and even after being informed by their commenting friends about the meme’s essential falseness, both refused to concede that they’d been conned, refused to remove the meme, apologize for it, turn the lens of their scorn around on themselves. No, they dug in, defending their support of this baloney with statements like: “Regardless of where it came from, the picture speaks for itself…” These educated adults have internalized and are actively spreading the meme’s central claim: Young people today are terrible.

You know what’s actually terrible, or at least terribly ironic? Old people with tenuous grasps of technology getting duped by the very technology they think they’re critiquing, into hating the very generation that can save us from ourselves. See how easy it is to lump people into categories, to support one group while denigrating another? While it’s true that white people over sixty have–as a sociological cluster–benefited from economic policies that have protected their investments at the expense of wages and job opportunities (not to mention the safety net) for everyone who has come after, many of the members of this group have devoted their entire lives to fighting such policies. Even a blog post like this one struggles to find the nuance of truth when talking about people as groups. Memes, on the other hand, are simplistic to the point of worthlessness. Memes are lies. When you spread them, you spread lies.

What to do? Simple. Quit posting, sharing, liking, and commenting upon memes, unless they are funny or adorable. If you have something to say about politics, do the work. Use your own words. Write your ideas out. Check your sources. Just like in real life.