There’s no doubt that the phrase uttered by Voltaire (Or Ben Parker, depending on who you ask), “With great power comes great responsibility” is something that has rung true throughout the history of the human race. Those of us who have failed this test went on to commit some of the greatest known acts of stupidity and / or viciousness. Perhaps the largest, single entity of empowerment that we have experienced in our own modern age is that of the Internet. With it comes new ways to communicate, create, assert freedom and learn. And while it has been used to great extent in these ways, it has also been used to create cognitive abominations.
Of course, what I’m talking about here are the hand-made Facebook info-graphics that litter your news feed. They are propaganda at their best and outright concoctions of madness at their worst. When they’re actually legitimate, such as is the case with some NPR offerings, it doesn’t even matter because you’re so surrounded with nonsense already that you don’t know what to think. Just the other day I saw a graphic with Obama, a bunch of gun statistics that were all false and then a quote from Hitler, attributed to Obama. And they get much more subtle, twisting the facts of criminal cases to support social agendas and more. I am, apparently, not the only one to notice this: I saw another one this morning with a picture of a very sick child and a list of ways to financially help him: $1 for a like, $10 for a comment and $20 for a share. How does this work? It doesn’t. But that didn’t stop it from getting 1,700,000 likes and shares in only three days (and another 1000 in the time it took me to write this sentence).
The propensity to perpetuate this insanity seems to be in humanity’s nature. Many of us can’t log in without seeing a quote bent out of context here, a flagrant lie there, an image stolen and manipulated a skip and a hop over yonder. Because it’s so incredibly comfortable for people to believe what they want to believe, these info-graphics spread like the plague. I truly do believe that they are doing massive damage, on a daily basis, to the ability of the general public to disseminate the good from the bad in terms of general information—and in a world of corporate-owned media, we’re already having a tough time. A combination of a lack of clarity as well as the laziness brought about by the lack of necessity for research and… ouch. I remember fellow high school students in the late 90s that were more politically aware than most of the self-professed political-junkies that I have in my Rolodex nowadays.
Folks like to complain about the surveillance state, corporate propaganda, etc.—and they should. But don’t let it be a distraction. We’re doing it to ourselves in the worst of ways, and from a space where a few flicks of the wrist can Google up information that may back up or totally tear apart these little images. It’s not that hard to practice a bit of skepticism. Black text on a white background may not hold the attention like the latest throwaway mobile game, but at least it has a better opportunity to stand on its own two feet and speak for itself.
By Johnny Beaver