Outrage and the internet: a dangerous combination


There’s a video that’s been floating around the Internet for a while now. You’ve probably seen it, or at least heard of it. In the video, a young Russian woman gets on the subway and pours what appears to be a mixture of water and bleach into the crotches of men who are “manspreading” (a term used by some to describe men who sit with their legs spread, particularly on public transport).

This video caused massive outrage when it was first posted online, despite the fact that the video was staged. The video was posted by an account with alleged ties to the Russian government and it seemed to be meant to paint feminists as crazy, impulsive and dangerous.

This isn’t an article debunking the video, nor is it an article about manspreading or radical feminism, this is an article about an annoying pattern that I’ve been noticing.

When the bleach video was posted, I watched several of my friends and acquaintances post passionate condemnations on their Twitters, film emotional rants and upload them to their Snapchat stories; angry reactions flooded my Facebook feed and I couldn’t open Instagram without my recommendations filling with reposts of the video by different accounts, all with hundreds of comments underneath.

I don’t think it has to be explained to anyone that pouring bleach on anyone’s genitals is wrong, and yet, that’s what I was reading. It was one of those strange moments when everyone was announcing their basic opinion loud and clear as if it was some kind of revolutionary idea.

I was in a crowd of people all screaming, “It’s wrong to pour bleach on people,” and I found myself thinking, “Yeah, I thought we already knew that.”

These people were right, of course, I agreed with them, but I didn’t feel any strong desire to fire up my laptop and write a Facebook post about it. I don’t think I need to tell you that you shouldn’t pour strong, corrosive chemicals on people who are just minding their own business on a train. The only problem is that they were manufacturing outrage over an event that never actually happened. They were feeding right into the hands of the people who made this video with the purpose of devaluing actual feminist activism. By sharing the video along with their rants and condemnations, they only contributed to the further spread of misinformation.

I don’t blame anyone for this, it’s really easy to believe everything you see on the Internet.

We need to get better at fact checking. A quick Google search, or even a simple common sense sniff test could have prevented the uproar around this video. If it seems too crazy to be true, then it probably is. Even if the woman had actually committed the terrible act, then I would argue that it’s best to ignore her. She wanted the attention, why give it to her?

People want to feel right, but more than that, they want to feel righteous: to be able to stand on their soapbox and condemn all evil. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this, save for the fact that in the quest to be righteous, people often forgo something that’s been drilled into my head since the start of my academic life, check your sources.

If a video’s posted by a sketchy looking Russian propaganda account, then it’s probably sketchy Russian propaganda.

I’m not saying that you should fact check every single tweet, Instagram and Facebook post, but if it seems unbelievable, maybe don’t believe it right away. Ask yourself if the source is trustworthy, @CBCNews is less likely to post a hoax than @John_Doe420, who still has a Twitter egg as his profile picture.

Ask yourself if the content is designed to manufacture outrage, if it seems like it is, maybe reconsider whether you should interact with it. Does it really make your day that much better to get on Twitter and yell about all you think is wrong with the world?

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