Greg Gutfeld: My guide to social media redemption

As humans, we live to connect. Which is why it’s amazing that it’s this very connection we seek that is now about to tear us apart.

For the past five years or so I’ve watched an endless parade of outrage mobs  on social media, and I’ve come to the conclusion that Twitter has now become part of a destructive, almost unstoppable evolutionary process.

Twitter now triggers the group survival mentality in all of us – in which the desire to expel a person from the group (call it a ritual sacrifice) is done to stave off your own inevitable targeting from the same group.  If the mob goes for him first, then I might be spared (for now).  This is likely part of all ritual sacrifices, old and new.

Social media preys on two competing desires:  to be part of a group for protection, and to stand out in order to attract partners. In my opinion, these desires, married together on social media, have led to career suicides, brutal online bullying, and even actual suicides.

A few weeks ago on the Five, I said that who you are on social media is a far lesser version of who you are in real life.  The only problem: you can’t see that in yourself – but you can see it in others.

I came to this realization when I noticed how annoying tweets by people I liked made me like those people less.  And people I don’t know very well at all, I could hate instantly, if one of their tweets reeked of attention-seeking. I sometimes wonder, if there were a button that accompanied a tweet that I could press to inflict painful shocks on the sender of that Tweet – would I use it? I will not answer that question.

But I realize that if Bob and Jane on social media are worse than Bob and Jane at the grocery store, then it also had to be true of Greg.  This Greg being me.  I am only half the man I am, on Twitter (save your jokes). It seems that whatever I put forth into that universe is not good for you, or me.

I’m not sure how to solve this problem (other than the obvious one: get off Twitter – but I know that monster still exists even if I’m not there – and, how will I promote my shows??). But I know it’s time for an ominous warning to anyone who will listen: if social media has not ruined you, it’s only because it hasn’t gotten to you yet. 

And it will.

Remember when we thought government was Big Brother? Nope: Big Brother is us.

I’ve watched, with horror, decent careers implode over stupid tweets.  Worse, I’ve seen the online world in unbridled glee swarm and ruin people for simple mistakes, either done online or in the real world. It’s not just a bad joke on Twitter that will get you – it’s a tantrum at Walmart, too.

In this era of the smartphone, I pity the person who has a bad day.  You will not survive.

Say something stupid. Go ahead, do it.  Chances are someone will capture it on their phone and upload it to Twitter before you can notify your boss of the incoming protest.

I thank god – for my parents’ sake (and yours too) - that there was no social media when we were growing up. Back then, life was more brutish but also wilder -  there were fewer shiny items to keep a child docile. There was an unhealthy ignorance of seat belts, bike helmets, child seats – and none of the constant supervision we see among helicopter parents today. Life was rougher, and because of that, it was also riskier. Which made life a conveyor belt of worry for most parents. Mine especially.

My point: Parents had a tough gig back then – and that was understood. It wasn’t uncommon to see a mother publically discipline a child – almost always because the child nearly killed himself doing something stupid on the monkey bars, or nearly swallowing something that would have poisoned him.  I remember my parents at their angriest when something almost tragic occurred.  No one intervened to school you on proper parenting.

In this world, every boy (and some girls) between the ages of 5 and 10 had a variety of scabs – all cataloguing life’s daily risks – when there were only three TV channels, no video games, but cheap rubber skateboards and loose fitting roller skates.

So, what if today’s hall-monitors with their ever present smartphones had existed back then?

My mom would have been a meme.

So would yours.

My mom had bad days, as did all parents – the difference is now we can record it, and we do. We catch so many people drunk, angry, or maybe…just having a bad day. And we almost only capture the resulting behavior – rarely the cause. We turn on our cameras when the person’s already snapped.

Then we film it, capture to publicize and shame, and possibly ruin for fun and profit. And so many people do this now - unaware that being a member of that mob for one day doesn’t immunize you from being targeted yourself, once the moment avails itself (it will).

And pity you, if you’re a successful person. Then you will have that much more to lose, and the mob will have so much more to gain with your substantial scalp.  And when it happens, the media will say, “nothing personal,” because it’s not really for kicks – it’s for clicks.

Remember when we thought government was Big Brother?  Nope: Big Brother is us.

This behavior isn’t new.  It’s just revealing itself in a new universe.  Social media mob rule is brutal, exacting and unforgiving. We give power to its leaders who brand, bully and boycott.

We get a rush when an attack swarm on Twitter fills that void of boredom that almost convinced you to do something productive.

I am not complaining. It’s too late for that. Complaining about the pitchforks of social media is like complaining about anything that’s out of your hands.  I can’t even think of an analogy.

I will say though, that it may be out of your hands --- but it’s not out of our hands.

We all are part of this world, and maybe – could it be possible? – we might agree to let that world go? To stop this catch-and-destroy carousel, hop off, and swear to forgive all of us for our lapses online, or in line at Costco?

Probably not. Probably never. I’m posting this on Twitter.