A friend messaged me out of concern recently. “I think you have to be really careful,” he said, referencing this exploratory piece on the roots of genocide by Bradley Campbell, a sociologist at UCLA. “I don’t think this piece is anything other than it claims,” he continued, “but I think it could be misinterpreted…. And you have to be really careful giving any impression that Areo is endorsing that view.”

What my friend was concerned about was that by exploring and putting forward another thesis for the causes of genocide, Areo was somehow endorsing genocide — even though Paul Bloom, a psychologist at Yale, had argued similar ideas in an essay for the New Yorker.

To think that anyone would take the message of Bradley Campbell’s essay and see it as genocide approval is absurd. But of course we know that these types of things are consistently done — especially on Twitter.

The platform is filled with opportunistic operators, salivating at the thought of the next opportunity to clip their enemies’ speeches and words so that they come off as more extreme, more uncharitable, and more radical than anything that was ever intended.

But this is only the first step. Next, there are hundreds, if not thousands — some prominent blue tick mark holders — who then eagerly share and retweet these incomplete snippets of information to their followers without a bother or care. They do so simply because it suits their political agenda or because they really don’t like the person who is being misquoted.

At the time I told my concerned friend that he was being too pessimistic and that he’d been spending too much time in the bowels of Twitter and that no one is that uncharitable.

Perhaps I was being too optimistic.

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1 comment

  1. In Rwanda, there was a lot of underlying resentment and jealousy among the Hutus. The media exploited it by saying it is either “kill or be killed.” Still, the sheer scale and intensity of the violence was shocking. At that time, the radio stations were the primary source of information, and unfortunately the message on the airwaves was “Kill, kill, kill.” The final toll was estimated at around 800,000 but I have not seen any figures as to how many people were actually involved in the killings. It seemed to be at least in the thousands, maybe the tens of thousands. There is a lot of painful but valuable followup research that could be done in Rwanda. It would be interesting to study the factors which separate those who are willing to kill in those situations, from those who are not. I suspect the killers were largely men, and mostly young ones. How do resentment and fear override the ordinary moral sense? How many of the killers were high on drugs? If most of the killers were young men, they would now be around 45-55, and could provide valuable perspective. If we don’t study it deeply, how can we prevent in future?

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