The Editor’s Desk: Listen up, sheeple

The Editor’s Desk: Listen up, sheeple

Signs that show an online discussion has gone off the rails.

I have come to the conclusion that social media is not necessarily a good source for thoughtful, rational, well-reasoned discussion and debate; a revelation which will shock precisely no one who has spent more than five minutes on social media.

Last week I wrote about coming across yet another theory about how the Elephant Hill wildfire started and who caused it. The comment was part of a “discussion”—I use that word in the loosest possible sense—on a Facebook page, the name of which I will not give, as no one there comes out looking very good. I came away with a few signs to look for which will indicate when it’s time to bail out on an online discussion.

– Someone invokes Hitler or the Third Reich (unless the discussion is about World War II).

– Someone accuses others in the discussion of having “drunk the Kool-Aid” (accepted a philosophy or perspective the accuser considers false or misleading) or calls them “sheeple” (people unable to think for themselves).

– The words and phrases “snowflake”, “libtard”, “feminazi”, and/or “social justice warrior” start getting thrown around.


– Someone uses the “Yes, but …” construction to pivot from the original point to something unrelated that they consider even more damaging or offensive (“President Trump’s racist views make him unfit for office.” “Yes, but Hillary’s emails!”).

– Someone makes a racist/ignorant/cruel remark, gets dumped on, and either tries to walk it back by saying “It was just a joke” or doubles down on the original comment.

– Someone states something improbable-sounding as a “fact” to back up their stance, is asked for a source, and replies “I’m not here to spoon feed you, look it up yourself.”

– On a related note, someone describes someone else’s post as “fake news” but refuses to provide any evidence, or uses “fake news” when they clearly mean “Something I do not agree with or that goes against my worldview”.

– Someone begins lamenting how politically correct the world has become.

– Someone points out how we never had to do XX “when I was a kid” and we all turned out fine, usually as a lament for how restrictive they feel the world has become (“We never had to wear bike helmets when I was a kid, and we all turned out fine”).

– Someone tries to excuse the past bad behaviour of someone by saying “It was a different time back then.”

– Someone, in a discussion about women being harassed, says “Oh, I guess we can’t even look at a woman now, in case she says she’s being harassed.”

– Someone begins addressing someone else in the discussion as “my friend”. Nine times out of 10 that is not as friendly a phrase as it would appear, and is not meant as such.

These should help people avoid the most noxious online discussions. Alternatively, you could do what a friend does, when he spots any of these signs: grabs a bag of popcorn and settles in for the show. It’s up to you, and how much spare time you have. But don’t say you haven’t been warned.

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