The dark side of social media … opinions seem more important than truth

Recently, I started posting videos on TikTok as an outlet for sharing my thoughts on topics such as male sexuality and relationships. In a short time, I picked up an astounding 300,000 followers (and climbing)! At first, I found TikTok fun and exciting. But, as I settled into my comfort zone of posting daily videos, I was unseated rather quickly by some negative, and simply cruel, comments and personal attacks. 

I have specialized in LGBTQ Affirmative Therapy and couples sex therapy for 36 years, and I thought I had heard just about everything imaginable and even unimaginable until TikTok. My experience has shown me there is no shortage of uninformed opinions, but what struck me most was the deep-rooted ignorance and arrogance in our society as evidenced by the comments posted in response to some of my TikTok videos.

Here is one example: straight men can and do have sex with men. These straight men are not gay or bisexual. They might be described as men who simply are curious, bi-curious, heteroflexible or sexually fluid. They have nothing else in common with gayness. In my clinical practice I have seen this countless times, and extensive research also shows this is true. However, when I shared TikTok videos on the subject, a firestorm of negative and disapproving reactions shot my way, none of which were fact-based. They simply were angry, verbal attacks.

You may have heard of the Dunning-Kruger effect. The term comes from a 1999 study by two social psychologists entitled: “Unskilled and Unaware of it: How Difficulties in Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Leads to Inflated Self-Assessments.” The study revealed there is a widespread cognitive bias in which people believe they are smarter and more capable than they really are. This sort of intellectual blind spot happens mostly to people with low logical ability who lack the skills needed to recognize their own incompetence. They become even more entrenched in their own opinion when presented with provable facts that contradict their opinion.

Many of these individuals will surface on social media and bully those who have a differing opinion, despite factual or experiential supporting evidence. These “bullies” feel compelled to attack and ridicule those with differing opinions and push their thoughts as truth.

What underlies the Dunning-Kruger effect is the phenomenon known by the mental health profession as “projection.” These individuals project onto others the very qualities and actions they are unwilling to acknowledge as their own. They are afraid and unequipped to face their own inner demons with honesty, and they push these demons deep into their unconscious where they believe they can be hidden and contained until they burst out when they read or hear something that contradicts their personal beliefs.

Simply stated, when they point a finger at someone in judgment, three fingers are pointing back at them. Once these finger pointers can begin to understand what is happening to them, it can change how they perceive the world around them.

Unfortunately, today differences feel too threatening to be worked through. As a result, it is easier to ignore them, play the bully, or verbally attack someone’s differences using no rational reasoning.

This is becoming a serious issue in our society today. We have witnessed how the rise of misinformation and political manipulation can lead to violence and the breakdown of a civil and peaceful society.

TikTok is one tiny representation of what is happening in society today. People, on an average, watch my one-minute videos for 26 seconds; some make uninformed comments after only 26 seconds. They don’t take any further steps to educate themselves on the subject. Instead, they prefer to ridicule, bully and shame me. Initially, it stung a bit when I read these outrageously offensive comments, but then I stopped to understand the feelings behind the words. These individuals are fearful of facing their true self, and they are afraid of being ridiculed, outed or shamed. They may be struggling with their own erotic underpinnings or are afraid to step outside the traditionalist view of masculinity. It is easier to put up their protective shield and attack. 

Through my own personal experience with social media, I have realized that overcoming the negative implications of the Dunning-Kruger effect on our culture will involve a great deal of self-examination, courage and perseverance to make social and cultural changes, particularly involving views of sexuality and male sexuality and fluidity.