The Amazon Rainforest is on fire. Everybody who has been on a social media platform for longer than thirty seconds knows it. And, of course, this fire will spell the end of life, or the planet, or both if we do not take collective action against it. As many on social media have pointed out: The Amazon is our lungs. Indeed, action against fires is prudent, and almost any person faced with the prospect of putting out a wildfire or letting it burn would choose to extinguish it. Yet most of us sitting at our keyboards are not in the Amazon, or even Brazil. We cannot physically fight those fires. But, there are fires which we can fight in the spaces we live. And we should.
The crises that plague the online world make the fires in the Amazon look pale by comparison. Misinformation, coupled with hatred and the desire for attention, have turned what was sold as an opportunity to become closer together into a simulation of the hell that humanity could live in if abandoned to our worst instincts. According to Snopes.com, a popular fact checking website, photographs of the burning Amazon (which is indeed on fire currently) were primarily not of the current fires – some were not even of the Amazon. But the pressure to click share is real; failure to share is to be complacent in the death of our planet. Misinformation is spread left and right by the right and left. And the name calling that frequently attends misinformation only serves to make the cycle faster.
So constant are the witch hunts online for political, social, or religious opponents, that a one-minute pause to conduct a google search of the issue in question is too long to wait. Your faceless ideological enemy is out there, and to give them rest is to give them aid. The great pitchfork wielding mobs of history have shunned procedural justice because of a key element: time. Social media may be a fantasy world where nothing is quite real, however the habitual hate and ignorance which society breeds in that environment will inevitably spill over into our daily lives.
What should be done then? We need to take time to consider our social media actions. Before sharing a meme or post, stop for a few seconds. Is that post worth sharing? Is it factual? Make a quick google search and check the facts. If the post is accurate it may be worth sharing. It is important to remember that major issues like environmental problems require large coalitions to tackle them. A hateful or accusatory post will not help achieve those goals. As Smokey Bear would say, “Only you can prevent wildfires.” Maybe it is time to take that logic to social media and stop the spread of misinformation and hateful rhetoric.