Hashtag Mentality and Today’s College Students

We are at a point in America where much of the populace has become no more than a reactionary mob.  While assorted protests may appear to be an exercise in our liberties such as freedom of speech as well as a natural desire to rebel, the reasons are more prosaic: the ignorance of our citizens, primarily the college-aged.  It’s compounded by a lack of real-world experience and by social media, a dangerous combination.  While a lack of understanding of the world isn’t necessarily the fault of any college-aged citizen, social media is another matter, with its use playing a special role in the creation of reactionary mobs. 

Take the highly charged executive order halting Middle Eastern refugees signed by President Trump.  As is the case of most executive orders, few individuals took the time to read it.  Instead, the masses reacted based on what they saw on social media.  Some enterprising individual created the deceptive hashtag “MuslimBan”, and the outrage began.  Obviously #MuslimBan is total fallacy, because it is in fact not a Muslim ban.  But social media isn’t about facts, it’s about clicks, it’s about drawing attention, regardless of one’s political affiliation.  It is also the primary means of news and conversation for this generation of college-aged citizens.

Age is a significant factor in the ignorance of social media warriors and hashtag experts.  A 21-year-old college student was a mere five years old when the twin towers fell on Sept. 11, 2001.  To a five-year-old, such an event might not even elicit a stored memory.  They have no recollection of the way things were before the terrorist attacks, and most of their memories have formed after it.   During that time, the country has been more akin to a police state as we trade liberty for security.  It is the only world they know.  I hardly expect those same children to have remembered when President Obama temporarily halted Iraqi visas in 2011, five years earlier.  The average 15-year-old has much more on his or her mind than American politics and actions stemming from wars they have always been familiar with. At the same time, they have no memory of why we were and still are fighting them.

The naivete and outright ignorance of those post-Sept. 11 children has set the course for what is now a generation of college students.  All that is needed is a catalyst to set them off.  Enter the rise of social media; a domain where even a rumor or a sliver of fiction can snowball into reality. 

With the advent of social media, fact-checking has gone the wayside.  Compounding this is the fact that the media of today is so biased it can be viewed as the mouthpiece for the Democratic Party, except for a few news outlets that veer so hard in the other direction they cannot be considered balanced, either.  Objective news reporting is dead.  TV is a relic of a bygone era to our youth who have no concept of real news, never having grown up with it. 

Combine it with a generation that has grown up in a sheltered environment, codified with the mentality that everyone is a winner and that they should always get their way and a sense of entitlement and the result is a perfect breeding ground for creating social justice warriors and hashtag experts.  Social media provides self-gratification by allowing this generation to quickly find large bodies of like-minded individuals while providing the capacity to drown out dissent.  Hashtags make this process even quicker.

Sadly, rather than conducting independent fact checks, these individuals latch on to a hashtag that sounds catchy or tugs at their empathy.  The hashtag suddenly becomes the news.  Using #MuslimBan once again as an example, thousands of college students accepted the hashtag at face value.  Then, by clicking the hashtag, they were greeted by thousands of other individuals with the same thoughts and feelings of general outrage.  Half-truths and blatant lies pass from one person to the other with a failure to check the original source.  In previous decades when social media did not exist, such fallacies would have been caught and corrected before widespread hysteria ensued. Now, the spread takes mere minutes.  It is the hashtag mentality.

A simple fact check, or reading of the executive order would have revealed that Trump’s executive order was not a Muslim ban.  It was a temporary freeze on the inflow of individuals from the most war-torn countries in the Middle East.  Dozens of other Muslim countries, such as Indonesia, were never affected by the order.  Social media-driven mobs, however, likely don’t know that Indonesia is host to more Muslims than any country in the world.  It doesn’t matter.  Social media users don’t care.

This is not to give the executive order a free pass.  The rollout was ill-thought-out and poorly managed.  But that is different issue.  It is merely an example to support the overall thesis that today’s twenty-somethings are for the most part incapable of independent thought, fact-checking and objectivity.  They really can’t be blamed though.  It is the world they were brought up in.  This timing and the rise of social media will continue to hinder their growth as adults until they achieve some form of world experience or else when something occurs that affects them directly.

One can thank Facebook and Twitter for the rapid spread of news that has not been properly vetted.  One can further thank them for the speed at which young users incite their peers into outrage.  We can only stand by and watch as they march off to do social justice battle armed with half-truths and non-facts. 

As our wisest politicians have already stated, we will not be destroyed by outside enemies, but from within.  It is getting closer in the age of the hashtag mentality.

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