When Twitter Shouldn’t be Your Platform of Choice

That knowledge is not merely perception is an ideal that has undergirded Western civilization since the times of the ancient Greeks. Objective truth exists. Pursuing it—even when doing so is challenging—is good. Moreover, this principle has been at the core of much of the political success of our nation. However, does our present culture really believe that? Does our reaction to public events reflect that?

When deciphering whether or not perception rules our thoughts and our reactions, one of the most recent examples to come to mind is the Covington Catholic controversy that overtook Twitter last week. A video was posted online that suggested that high school students from a Catholic school in Covington, Kentucky were disrespecting Nathan Phillips, a Native American leader during their visit to Washington, DC for the March for Life. The students, some clad in red MAGA hats, appeared to surround a Native American elder, and some reports suggested the boys had been chanting at Phillips “build that wall.” Shortly after the release of the video, public denunciations rolled out from both sides of the political aisle.

The video certainly painted the students as being disrespectful, and, at first glance, people were right to be appalled. Later, another video was released, suggesting the students had been receiving insults from another group of protestors, and when Phillips came to the students with his drum, they stayed where they were standing and gave him their attention. Some early commentators issued apologies to the students, some did not, and others still pivoted to the students’ personal lives, searching for some evidence of their suspected misogyny or racism.

In this instance (and it is not an isolated instance) perception failed the public, specifically the online public. What seemed to be was not. Perception failed, and many reacted quickly. Social media makes hasty reactions not only easy, but also seemingly necessary. If you haven’t made a statement, then it seems as if you are on the side of the alleged perpetrator. If you don’t speak out against injustice then you appear complicit in it. But what if you are wrong? What if your perception is incomplete or underdeveloped?

In making our thoughts public, as posts, sometimes we allow ourselves to be swept up in what has become a call-out culture. The first to call out someone else for seeming to take part in something objectionable, is the first to get those longed for retweets, or maybe even a screenshot in an article for The Hill. Twitter feeds our craving for online attention, admiration, acceptance. All you have to do is comment correctly on the way something seems to be.

My mother teaches second grade. One poster in her classroom states: “Think before you speak. Is it true? Is it necessary? Is it kind?” In the same way elementary school students ask themselves these questions, we should ask ourselves these three questions before we press send.

Asking these questions would be better practice than superficially prefacing every comment with a denunciation of bigotry. We should strive to value the truth and to represent it well. If we are really unsettled by presumed instances of violence or hatred, we should be comfortable with trying to make a change in our communities, families, and schools. Maybe that change can be documented online, but it doesn’t always need to be. I wonder if, more often than not, it’s better to stay offline.

Twitter can be used to share pictures of dogs with party hats, it can be used to share links to thought provoking op-eds, and it can be used to connect and collaborate with those on the opposite side of the globe. Twitter can be used for good. It can also be used to feed our human desire to merely be seen as good by others, to cave to the impulse to shoot off our first thoughts, or to injure individuals or organizations. In real life and in online life, we should think before we assume to know, we should fight the impulse to display our moral superiority simply for the sake of signaling how “virtuous” we think ourselves to be, and we should always allow charity to guide our words and actions. Think before you speak and before you tweet: Is it true? Is it necessary? Is it kind?

Maggie Dever is a senior studying in the Program of Liberal Studies and living off campus. She is a southern belle who hails from North Carolina. Please reach her at Mary.M.Dever.9@nd.edu.