Are we Victims of Zombie Virus on Social Media?
Sep 10, 2020 08:00AM
By Belinda Nzeribe
There is a brutal viral strain spreading on the internet, it’s the zombie virus. The rise of fake news and noxious messaging is a manifestation of the virus. Living in a hyper polarized world as we do, this virtual virus is leading to the collapse of legitimate news, civil debate, and triggering online social strife. Posting news without exercising critical thought to its verity is also exacerbating this pandemic. In the words of Mark Twain, “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.”
The Rise of Crooked News
The creation and spread of false content to cause panic, division and violence is classic zombism. Fake news is exciting. It is also strengthening divisions and destroying standards of truth. Planting false information to gain the upper hand is an old trick. In his quest to become the first Roman emperor, master propagandist Octavian strategically distorted information to harness Romans anger against his rival, Mark Antony. His devious smear campaign won him an empire.
Today, the false rumors and biased messaging traditionally spread by word of mouth is now magnified by technology on a scale that's unrivalled. Information is weaponized and disseminated to millions of followers within seconds. The platforms are bigger and powerful and are vectors for virulent dis-information. Influencers and even leaders of countries are complicit - amplifying manipulated posts on their timelines. Backed by the zombie effect, these fabrications garner millions of views and shares.
The Annihilation of Middle Ground
Zombies can’t think. They are a mindless entity with one goal: attack, bite, kill. You cannot argue with them. Period. The late afrobeat musician Fela Kuti describes zombies as a one-way traffic – can’t think unless you tell it to think. No break, no job, no sense. Online zombification has no cure; it annihilates contrary opinion, is hypersensitive to criticism and promotes cancel culture. You are blocked.
In this day of clapback and incivility, we create online battlegrounds that muscle out real conversations. Being sensitive and civil seems to require superhero powers. Everyone is emotionally invested, unable to stay uninvolved. This pandemic brings out the worst in people, users adopt vicious speech that used to be alien in their everyday language. Britain’s broadcaster, Piers Morgan laments, “Debate is impossible; any opinion is greeted with increasingly abusive tribal screeching.” He forgets he frequently engages in bullying behavior too, obsessively picking on Megan Markle.
All media is positional. All media seem to have an angle, and interestingly our preferred media is one that reinforces our biases. We consume too much polarizing media not to be influenced by it. This death of the middle ground in discourse is particularly alarming. Understandably, with constant exposure to opinionated rhetoric, it’s almost impossible to be a self-righteous fanciest.
We’ve all become infected. You are either a wailer or a hater, a racist or an anarchist. Clearly, the “with us or against us mentality is sinking the world into divisions and moral turmoil. This inability to entertain opposing views is a symptom of zombism.
Online Streets Have no Stops
Open roads, no red lights, no checks. One user says, “Just say random sh*t that openly contradicts the reality; say it with conviction, in short choppy sentences.” No solid sanctions exist for perpetrating virtual abuse, and this allows everyone to bring their pathologies and infect the rest of the world. One is reminded how the media was used to sustain hate messaging and violence in furtherance of the Tutsie genocide in Rwanda. On the chat streets, you are sure to be attacked vilely by strangers you’ve never met. My friend doesn’t understand this neurobehavioral disorder, “why do we wear clothes on the streets but go naked online?” he asks.
Zombies don’t talk. They bite. They are the most soulless and disrespectful undead beings ever. When they appear critical thinking, civility and sensibility disappear. Twitter was designed to make bird sounds. One bird is tolerable, but the problem is that there are always colonies of birds screeching on trees, driving everyone insane. Another user complains, “It’s ruining my mental health, [it] needs to be banned to save us from ourselves.” I empathize, I have deleted the app a couple of times, also practiced social media distancing but ... still using. What can I say; I’m hooked on the drama.
The Herd Mentality
People tend to behave badly in groups; groupthink emboldens them to act worse than they would as individuals. Be careful of the hoard is Morgan’s advice to Rick Grimmes in The Walking Dead, “in a group, all riled up and hungry, man watch your a*s. There is a shielding from guilt and responsibility that is offered while in the herd. Online trolls exhibit blind insentience, always gnawing, always active, as if suffering from virtual insomnia. Anyone can be a part of the mob; the only requirement is to lose individualization. It begins with one contrary, idiotic opinion and like a pack of zombies growling, “brains-brains,” they gather quickly, attracted by the noisy gunshots of clapback and arguments.
What is Required is Better Moderation
Facebook and WhatsApp are the largest social media platforms in the world, yet its billion users are unable to differentiate between fabricated news and credible news. False messaging is so pervasive it has become truth. Imagine the huge disinformation campaigns that uncritical users are exposed to. Clearly, the internet companies need to do more to curb the dysfunction.
This virtual pandemic is not a hoax and it won’t just go away without regulation – responsible moderation of content. You can’t have such proliferation of bots, divisive content, and crooked news without consequences. People who use social media as an extension of their real lives need some protection. Society needs law and order or it will implode.
The online culture toxicity is impacting public discourse, orchestrating activities that wreak the most havoc on sensibilities. Hate and lies spreading at cyber-speed, accruing millions of views. The enthronement of disinformation systems by Janus-faced influencers needs bridling. It is symptomatic of a troubled world and a mindless path to chaotic, violent rhetoric. While bile continues to be projected, social media giants can no longer tout free speech as justification for inaction. Unchecked abusive use of platforms is antithetical to free speech, to debate. What is required is for these companies to take responsibility and moderate content vigorously. Failing this, discourse will continually sicken on platforms, and offer no safe zones where the traumatized can seek refuge.