Technology is disruptive. It destroys and creates. It also defines us as human beings. No technology, though, even television, has reflected who we really are like social media. It’s a psychological experiment in real time. While social media has made the world a better place in uncountable ways, it has exposed the poor critical skills and educational deficit of much of the population. We live in a world of ignorance. The problem is not what people believe or that credible information is not available. It’s that people can’t distinguish legitimate sources of information from propaganda – and poor critical skills and pervasive ignorance are having a corrosive effect on politics.
A near-perfect way to see social media’s effect is to gauge society’s attitude to Jews. How they are depicted tells us something about the mental health of society, whether a culture is sane or insane, intelligent or stupid. In recent years a deluge of anti-Semitic propaganda has been shared on social media. What distinguishes the material, though, is not its ubiquity but how crude and unintelligent it is. A half-clever child could see that most of the anti-Jewish propaganda is nonsense. But the amount of reposts, likes, and favourable comments about the alleged iniquity of Jews, Zionists and Israelis tells us that something is wrong with our culture.
The most disgusting example of propaganda I’ve seen on Facebook was a video purportedly showing Israeli soldiers physically abusing Palestinians.
The video was bloodthirsty and disgraceful. The brutality was nauseating. In the video, a dozen or more people were huddled on one side of a room. They were red from their own blood. Soldiers were kicking and beating them. The people were mute from horror. The soundtrack to this appalling film was a keening, Arab lament. The narrative on the video claimed that this was a routine example of Israeli brutality towards Palestinians. The story was framed in a way that told the viewer what to believe before watching the video. It’s one of the simplest and most effective propaganda techniques. It only works, though, on people who already believe nonsense or who have poor critical skills. The video was posted on my Facebook page multiple times, each time with outraged commentary by people who endlessly signal their intelligence and morality.
The problem was that the footage was of Syrian soldiers beating Arabs. The music was used to hide the language of the perpetrators, which was Arabic. Anyone with a shred of intelligence, or who hasn’t been brainwashed by anti-Semitic nonsense, could see that the video did not show Israelis abusing Palestinians. It took a five-minute Internet search to determine that Syrians were the perpetrators of the vile abuse. The ironic thing, which escaped the notice of those who posted, commented or liked the video, is that, far from showing the Palestinians liking cuddly bears and gay rights, or as a people who are quintessentially lovely and without sin, which is how much of the media depict the Palestinians – it may have been Palestinians beating fellow Arabs in the video. During the Ottoman Empire, Arabs did not define themselves as Syrians, Iraqis, Egyptians or Palestinians – they were Arabs. Hence the repeated calls for uniting the Arab nation among Arab nationalists.
Another video, with a similar overdubbed soundtrack of sorrowful Arabic music, showed soldiers beating teenage boys. Again, the video claimed that this was Israeli soldiers abusing Palestinians. Again it was a fake video. The footage was from South America. The Palestinians have an industry making fake atrocity videos. The same people who believe the most outrageous lies about Israel are the first ones to post fake propaganda videos. They do it repeatedly and without shame. This doesn’t mean that Israel never behaves badly towards the Palestinians. It would require people of super-human morality to always behave perfectly towards people who want to murder them. But if you have to constantly create propaganda videos to further the narrative of Israeli oppression, then the oppression is simply not as bad as you claim. The irony, though, is when a video is proven to be fake, those who believed the video was true rely on other fake videos to maintain the narrative of Israeli genocide towards the Palestinians. They’re in an echo chamber of lies and they have no idea they’re being played for fools. Previous lies legitimate the current lie.
In the film, The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy and her friends discover that the feared Wizard is just a little man with a loud voice. One of her travelling companions on the Yellow Brick Road is the Scarecrow, who doesn’t have a brain. Combine the Wizard and the Scarecrow and you have the psychological profile of a sizeable percentage of Facebook users, especially the ones who discuss politics. There’s lots of noise and very little thinking. Social media has torn a hole in the fabric of consciousness by showing that the average person’s comprehension level is no better than a loudmouth bar room philosopher. In other words, simplistic, emotional and easily swayed by asinine propaganda. To log in to Facebook is to enter a parallel universe, a dystopia of endless virtue-signalling and fake news.
This phenomenon is not limited to Justin Bieber fans and people who like cat videos. The gullibility is pervasive. Politicians, academics, teachers, librarians, Nobel Laureates, philosophers and celebrities routinely post nonsense on Facebook. What’s dangerous about social media is that those who continually signal their superior intelligence or higher morality are the people who usually fall for nonsense or who are vicious and malevolent towards those with whom they disagree. The more they signal their intelligence – the more likely they are naive. The more they signal their morality – the more likely they will maliciously attack their opponents. It’s a demented version of the painting in Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray. In the novel, Dorian Gray’s picture grows old while the eponymous hero stays young. On Facebook people look at their social media profile and see a happy, smiling face – and not the psychotic, malevolent face that the rest of us see. It’s hallucination on a mass scale. And it’s having a destructive effect on democratic politics.
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