The outcry of the mob on social media is just that: a mob. And the mob goes after the mob. First it mobbed the mob of Covington students for their caught-on-camera smug treatment of a Native American. Then it retaliated against the mob for mobbing the Covington mob when it became clear that the Native American activist sought the Covington mob out.
Now the mob wants to go after the mob’s mobbing and mob the mob to teach it a lesson.
Who is to blame?
Each major side of the issue can find evidence that its position is right and the other side is wrong: The Native American activist seemingly has a known record of attention seeking. Boys were being boys (can we even say that anymore?) and their wearing of MAGA hats to a pro-life event shows the muddied waters of Trump we all swim in.
We could blame the press. Why didn’t the press do a better job of vetting the story? News outlets were probably sure that with the first video they saw they had the story. And, oh, the pressure to get the clicks first! Editors want to shoot and ask questions later, and reporters just want to do their job.
Or, maybe there’s a deeper story linee. The boys went to a Catholic school and participated in the March for Life. Any attempt to discredit the event, especially by changing the narrative, is par for the course. However tempting that might be as an explanation, the Covington storyline has swallowed up in its wake multiple marches that weekend and the ongoing government shutdown. This small, momentary encounter has consumed our emotion and attention.
It's not our story!
None of this should matter. We shouldn’t even be talking about this story. As someone who has worked with youths for almost twenty years, similar incidents happen all the time. Even when kids have done no wrong, the actions of adults around them are still inflection points for teachers to discuss with their students. The adults in charge have to make decisions all the time about the world around their students: what’s an educational moment and what isn’t. And it depends not only on the moment, but on the student as well. In other words, even when an incident often becomes public, so long as they are not criminal, it probably isn’t any of our business.
Quite frankly, this incident is not news, and it wouldn’t merit being reported in the first place no matter who will have turned out to be in the right or wrong. It’s a small, microcosmic event, important in the lives of the young people involved but utterly unimportant in greater public affairs. At least it should be. We make famous nobodies, from the voyeuring of Hollywood and sports celebrities to the minor talking heads and influencers we follow each day on social media. Most of our relationships are assumed to make sense without any truly relational, personal context.
This leaves us us only with quick, snap judgments, the type we make on first impressions. The toxicity of social media is that we make the judgment, we comment, and thus, we’ve committed to a position that neither lends itself to retraction nor to nuance. It’s just easier to hold onto our quick opinions. It’s a very human reaction that serves us well in moments when quick judgments are needed, like swerving to avoid a car, but in inner-personal relationships and in public affairs, it’s an utterly primitive and unproductive way to operate. We end up elevating these minor events to fight our ideological opinions d’jour because it is quick and easy to do. That makes little sense.
The need to mob and to opine as a mob is callous and improper. Our daily affairs are better off ignoring the events that mobs respond to. We should have trusted the adults close to these kids to take care of the problems appropriately, wherever they’ve arisen from, and just moved on. And if the adults get it wrong, so be it. It’s just true that not every wrong can and should be remedied, just as not every wrong carries the weight of decades and centuries of injustice. We can’t burden one stupid incident with four hundred years of tragic history in the hopes of doing “our part” to make it right.
But these days everything is political; thanks to social media, everything is part of the noise in our public square. We are overwhelmed. We’d do well finding ways in the future to simply avoid the mob, large and small, and move forward on our affairs. There are better pursuits for our time.
Mattias A. Caro is the Executive Editor of Ethika Politika.