When Did We Become a Nation of Forensics Experts?
Back in a world PSM (pre-social media), people traded insights and opinions on the news of the day only through in-person gatherings—in school, at work, at a birthday party, while waiting for the bus or jeep, at the neighborhood sari-sari store. We’d voice displeasure at the government’s latest shenanigans, express shame or ridicule on news of the celebrity scandal du jour, or share the hottest gossip about the office tramp or the school lothario—basically everything we deemed important enough to share to anybody in front of us with a pair of ears and time to spare.
The consequences were negligible then. Unless you were dissing somebody and the trash talk reached their ears (and they were offended enough to come at you locked and loaded), what we said stayed in a limited circle of influence. Nothing happened except for energy being expended.
Now, of course, with the holy trinity of Twitter, Facebook and Instagram (plus a bunch of upstart social media apps), that circle of influence has grown considerably, and what we say doesn’t just reach the person in front of us. One would think that, with a bigger potential audience, we’d be more careful about whatever we say or do online.
But the opposite seems to have happened.
Every time there’s a high-profile case, an issue of immediate or widespread significance, or, really, anything that happened to or was caused by someone particularly noteworthy, the default seems to be talk (or post) now, worry about the consequences later. Even if it’s something that doesn’t impact any aspect of our existence, people can’t seem to help chiming in with their two cents.
Don’t even get me started on those who turn into instantaneous experts on whatever the issue of the day is. When the Department of Foreign Affairs issues a statement related to a sensitive topic, we suddenly get a wave of foreign policy professionals who think they know better than actual diplomats. When a beloved brand or well-known entrepreneur falls on hard times, countless armchair business experts sound off on what went wrong—not just what they think went wrong, but what actually went wrong, with all the confidence of a seasoned professor or a billionaire tycoon who knows what they’re talking about. When there are updates about a complicated legal case involving familiar personalities, or knotty disputes with things like national pride on the line, expect the instant experts to come in, guns f***ing blazing, schooling all of us who don’t know any better.
And when there’s a gruesome crime that ticks off all the boxes of a sensational high-profile case—possible murder, rape, victim a beautiful young woman, comes from a prominent family or affiliated with a well-known company—you can bet your ass people are going to have something to say. When did we become a nation of forensics experts? Or lawyers? Or doctors?
And people will do it even if they know next to nothing about the case. Even if it does nothing to give justice to the victim or provide comfort to the family. They just have to contribute something, anything, to a digital conversation, even if it’s beyond their understanding. Okay, that may not be entirely true. People can go in and talk like they know everything about something after reading the Wikipedia entry, after browsing one news article, or after hearing an opinion that makes sense from an acquaintance or somebody else they follow on Twitter.
It’s not even that we get substantial information from these instant pundits that advances the conversation. Often it’s nothing more than amplified outrage—opinions based on nothing more than their own prejudices. Nowhere is this more pronounced than in the comments section of news posts on Facebook and Twitter. You know what we’re talking about. The audacity of people who think they’re merely expressing an opinion—but are actually exposing their own ignorance—is astounding. And quite frankly, pathetic.
Look, we get it. Our emotions can get truly worked up over what’s happening in the world right now. It’s so easy and convenient to shoot off an angry tweet, or a well-meaning comment, and it can be a way for us to let off steam or, as in the olden days, just express what’s on our chest. But is it too much to ask for us to do our due diligence before we, well, shoot? Are you actually fighting for something, or are you merely informing everyone how meaningless your life is that you need to resort to picking fights with strangers on the internet?
Is your tweet or post actually adding to the conversation, or is it a furious, ill-informed outburst that’s not based on fact and really doesn’t accomplish anything but reveal the troll that’s inside of you?