One of the scariest aspects of social media is its ability to democratize, amplify and accelerate judgment.
We use it to weigh in on everything, with lightening speed, as if a game show buzzer has been placed in our hands and we need to smack it fast or we won’t win the exciting unknown entity that lies behind Door Number Three.
While in some circles, this process of “instant arbitration” creates a slightly snarky Greek chorus, the more common phenomenon is that it creates an instant army of Alice’s Queen of Hearts, tromping around, bellowing, “Off with their heads!”
Nowhere was this more apparent than Sunday’s Academy Awards.
As I did last year, I watched the Oscars on Sunday with my Twitter network in tow. But there was a noticeable change this year in the speed, volume (the most conservative estimate of number of tweets during the show was 400,000) and vitriol of the comments.
It went something like this.
“And the winner is…Randy Newman, for Toy Story 3!”
- “Randy Newman sounds like a broken food processor.”
- “At some point, someone will notice that Randy Newman has won for the same song 19 times.“
- “Hi. I’m Randy Newman. I’ve written the same song twenty different times. Where’s my check?”
- “And they have to stop nominating Randy Newman. Just because he works with Pixar, it doesn’t make it a good song.”
(These are actual tweets, btw.)
Now, me? I’ve got no beef with Randy Newman. So I was surprised at the amount of anti-Randy sentiment that started flooding the feed last Sunday.
Not only do I have no beef with the guy, I never even think about him. Ever.
And you know what? I’m guessing a lot of those Randy bashers don’t ever think about him, either.
But there he was on stage. And perhaps in that moment, all those people saw the swarm of tweets go by and thought, “Well I guess I’d better weigh in on Randy Newman, too.”
I was totally guilty of the same behavior on Oscar night. I didn’t tweet about Randy, but I did comment on the flat jokes (which were most of them), awkward hosts, and ugly dresses.*
I did it because that’s what it feels like you’re supposed to do.
Social media offers a Rorschach slideshow of images and ideas and we, in turn, shout out what we see. That’s the premise of the whole form.
Content is posted, we comment with an “LOL,” we “Like” it, we share it, and then we move on. It’s become such a Pavlovian process that I’m not sure we even think about the “whys” anymore.
But, when we find ourselves searching the ground for rotten tomatoes simply because everyone else is throwing them, maybe it’s time to start.
*I tweeted about happy, nice things during the Oscars too, incidentally.