Extremism rules the Internet. It’s Fury Road. Strong opinions expressed strongly trump moderatism. This ruthless landscape allows anger and vulgarity to triumph. Loud minorities can drown out more passive majorities. You don’t need a sound opinion, you need a Doritos flavor.
This is the setting for stories like the one that unfolded on Monday. The hashtag “Boycott Star Wars VII” gained a footing on Twitter early in the morning. Those carrying the negative banner claimed that the new film was anti-white, with one user adding the label #whitegenocide to their tweet. The third and final trailer for the movie had debuted the night before, and featured a woman and a black man in the lead roles.
Angry Twitter users accused the movie of being a platform for a multi-cultural agenda. Of course it seems ironic/bigoted/unpopular to be offended by multiculturalism. Hollywood has a well-documented history of employing predominantly white men both in front of and behind the camera. The whole complaint is racist and nonsensical. The type of charade one would stroll right past on a busy street corner. However, this is the Internet. Offended parties felt the need to respond to the racist tweets.
Ambitious individuals used the Boycott Star Wars hashtag to call out the bigots, ousting the illegitimacy of their claims. Ultimately though, tagging their posts helped perpetuate the trend. The hashtag picked up steam as more and more people were exposed to it. That produced new cycles of outraged users responding to the offense. Eventually a traditional news outlet, USA Today, was reporting on the once-self-contained Twitter radar blip.
Racism is an ill of society. Discouraging racism makes for a good outcome. Trying to change the mind of an opinionated person on the Internet however, is a bit like trying to turn a zombie back into a human. While a noble and heartfelt pursuit, it’s probably in your best interest to just run away.
It’s the same thing we saw with the Kim Davis story. That was about an embattered person refusing to do her job for religious reasons. If it was difficult for most people to see two sides to that issue, this must feel impossible. It’s the Persians against The 300. Except every Persian has the skillset of a Spartan, and the Spartans are actually just a collection of people from a public bus. It’s lopsided to say the least.
It can feel irresponsible to look the other way. Many of us are taught to stand up for what we believe in and call out injustice when we see it — righteous principles, yes. However, some ideas/insults/hashtags are so asinine that they don’t merit a response.
The Internet offers a more egalitarian footing for all individuals, regardless of whether or not they deserve it. We need to pick our battles — not because we can’t win them all, but because we don’t need to. Legitimizing the claim of a bigot or racist by responding to it ultimately becomes counterproductive. If you don’t fan the flames, embers eventually burn themselves out.