Invasion of the idiots?


“Social media gives legions of idiots the right to speak when they once only spoke at a bar after a glass of wine, without harming the community. Then they were quickly silenced, but now they have the same right to speak as a Nobel Prize winner. It’s the invasion of the idiots.” – Umberto Eco

A highly-regarded polymath, Umberto Eco passed away in 2016 at the age of 84, so it’s enlightening to observe how he viewed social media, through his prism of novelist (The Name of the Rose, his most popular work), semiotician, philosopher, and social and political commentator. That he came up with the above quote even back then, shows how prescient he was of the digital age, and where it was headed to, and the inherent downside to this democratized advance in technology.

Mind you, I’m not saying the digital age has not been a boon to our lives. The unbelievable access to information, the convenience generated to access said information, and how it’s made life interesting and rewarding are certainly there to acknowledge. But I believe what Mr. Eco also observed was how the digital age could be used wrongfully, without real control or safeguards; and how, at the end of the day, without knowing how to discriminate and judge, there would be so many generating falsehoods and knee-jerk opinions — and worse, so many ready to believe and follow.

If you don’t second this thought, just think of what happened recently - the vaccination fiasco at SM San Lazaro. There, unverified posts that only the vaccinated would get their “ayuda,” caught like wildfire within the community, and led to a mad scramble that made any regard for health, safety, and social distancing a missing thing. And there’s some rich irony there, that in order to get vaccinated, they dispensed with every COVID rule in the book, and most likely, turned it into a spreader event.

On Facebook and IG, right before this second round of ECQ, I’d see posts on the pages of a number of people, all spreading a supposed slide from an IATF presentation — one that enumerated new rules and guidelines about how the vaccinated would be allowed to do this or that, but needed a particular identification card. Not true at all, turns out it might have been something proposed, suggested; but was rejected. And yet, you had long threads of people reacting violently — so much vitriol that was absolutely pointless. Why did that post even crop up? You tell me!

SOCIAL DISTANCING, a distant thought at a recent Manila vaccination center.

Without a doubt, the internet and Social Media are also virtual (and literal) minefields. The “wokesters” and the PC’s of the world have made it so, to the point where simple, honest mistakes are immediately picked up on, trashed, and condemnation heaped on the person who made it. Someone can be sincerely congratulating a friend who’s a transgender, saying what a brave journey — but get a single pronoun wrong, and you’re pushed off the bus in no time at all. The friend may not even harbor genuine ill-will for the blunder, but they’ll be pressured because of the weight of social media to also side with, and as an, aggrieved and insulted. Too much posturing, in my mind. For the sake of being woke, being the voice of truth and reason, so many are ready to be unreasonable and unforgiving. Sad…

And looking at this last paragraph, I’m sure so many will be ready to lash out at me for saying what I did. But for me, don’t preach about tolerance and reason, if you can’t be reasonable, flexible and forgiving yourself.

And believe me, there are more insidious ways in which Social Media is exploited by those hoping to monetize their number of followers and audience, or create viral content. Sadly, it’s really all business for them; but like chickens in a hatchery, we’re all ready to “lay an egg,” each and every hour.

The social influencers today are often guided and advised on how to rack up those traction figures. For women, one ploy is to post a revealing, sexy photo of yourself, and caption it with something dismissive or self-deprecating, so it looks like you’re not cheapening yourself — and yet, it does the trick each time. Others purposely post something provocative and insulting; precisely because it’ll be controversial and their audience will multiply. The street wisdom being that people forget quickly, but you’ve now amassed the followers who were curious, or wanted to kibitz and weigh in. Social media is a manipulation game, and we’re the ones they’re trying to manipulate.

I’ll leave you with two more classic quotes from Mr. Eco, food for thought: “All the blogs, Facebook, Twitter, are made by people who want to show their own private affairs at the price of making fakes; to try to appear such as they are not, to construct another personality, which is a veritable loss of identity.”

And, “the problem with the internet is that it gives you everything — reliable material and crazy material. So the problem becomes, how do you discriminate?”