It started out as a simple notification. I’d been tagged on Twitter. Tagged for what, I didn’t know, but tagged all the same.
I opened the app. A lovely photograph filled my screen taken by another blogger who has frequently entertained me with her travel stories and photographs of parts known, as well as less discovered. But what was it doing on my Twitter feed?
The only information I could find was the hashtag, #7dayphotochallenge. No pictures. No explanations.
Being the sucker for friendly hashtag games, I clicked to learn more.
Following the tag, I saw a number of other posts featuring images of nature or various things around the house. The game seemed easy enough. I found a decent enough picture to share and tagged a couple other nice people I follow.
The following day, another photograph appeared in my feed posted by the same person who’d tagged me in the first place. However, this time other twitter handles were mentioned. It began to dawn on me then that this was one of the more run-of-the-mill twitter games.
I suppose the whole “#7day” part of the hashtag thing should have probably clued me in, but in my defense, I was somewhat distracted at the time by the pretty landscape. So I looked around the room, snapped a photo, and tagged another nice person.
It dawned on me then, that I may have made a tactical mistake. Before, I might have been able to pass off the first photo as a fluke or humoring a friend. But now, now I was invested.
I posted a third then started preparing my whole strategy for pictures 4,5,6, and 7.
Suddenly, this whole game thing was beginning to seem like work. Fun work, mind you. But work.
And I still didn’t have a clue what in the world purpose of the game was or the rules were – other than no people, no explanations.
I found myself thinking of a special I’d seen on Netflix a while ago called The Push. The film documented a social experiment designed to answer the following: could a regular person be manipulated into pushing another person off the top of a building based on nothing more than the power of suggestion and the perception of authority. It was a modern take on the Milgram experiment.
The experiment started by first identifying people who are more susceptible to suggestion than others. Potential subjects were sent into a room where a pair of people in on the experiment stood or sat whenever a bell rang. Those who joined in the exercise without ever once asking why the first few people were standing one moment and sitting the next were invited to the next round.
Once the subject was selected, he or she would be gradually conditioned to accept increasingly risky commands leading up to one final choice – would they continue to allow social pressures to influence their behavior, or would they stand up to something that they, being good people, knew to be morally repugnant?
Watching the experiment play out on the screen, I’d like to think I wouldn’t – that I’d draw a line in the sand before the situation progressed that far – but now, given how readily I jumped into a game that everyone else seemed to be playing no questions asked, it makes me start to wonder.
I like to think that people are good and well-intentioned overall. However, we can get carried away by an idea. Then, suddenly we find ourselves backed into a corner, blocked by the rigidness of our beliefs as much as by those who oppose them. At this point, it is only natural to forget about the larger implications and instead try to seek the protection of the closest group at hand. We then do or say whatever we can that either requires the least amount of thought or provides the most immediate relief. And this is when the bad stuff tends to happen.
People, for the most part, aren’t naturally bad in my opinion, but people sure can be lazy.
I’ve included a clip from a recent episode of Last Week Tonight on the topic of astroturfing, which was not a term I was familiar with, but now makes complete sense. The clip is NSFW, so wait until sensitive ears are not around before you watch it, but its worth the watch all the same. It’s a great reminder of the risk of getting so caught up in the group-think, emotional side of things, we forget to ask if what we are doing or saying is truly best, or based on any fact from the start.
If you aren’t able to view the clip, let me repeat with his key point: “It is now even more incumbent on us to use our judgment diligently.” So never forget to use yours. I’ll do the same.
Because while it’s easier than ever to get swept up in a trend, it’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt.