The Same Old Tired Fallacious Arguments for Justifying Irresponsible Behavior
By Donna and Ian Mitroff
I’m publishing this series of articles to share and discuss my ruminations on coping with a troubled and messy world. You can “follow” me to never miss an article.
Years ago, in her job as a VP for Broadcast Standards and Practices (BSP) for a channel that primarily served young children, Donna encountered time and again the same old tired fallacious arguments for justifying the violence that were a prominent feature of kid’s shows. Given that the basic job of BSP is to assure that the shows that are shown to young children are not harmful in any way, Donna was constantly at odds with the producers. Sadly, the same types of arguments — if they are even deserving of the term — are used to justify the odious content that constantly spews forth from Social Media. As a result, our memories were jogged back to the time when Donna started her career.
If anything, in the interim, things have gotten considerably worse. In the days of TV, one at least had the option of turning it off, thereby escaping from it. But with Social Media, that’s not possible. It’s constantly on as kids sleep with phones under their pillows lest they’re not connected and thereby in dire jeopardy of FOMO “fear of missing out”.
Again, all of this brought back the arguments against which Donna had to do battle daily.
When Donna encountered violent content and put forward well-researched findings that viewing violence can desensitize young viewers to violence and lead to violent behavior, the first argument she encountered again and again was: “I grew up watching violent cartoons, and it didn’t make me violent”.
To the contrary, given their general callousness towards subjecting young children to the very same, it definitively did affect them! The sad thing is how unaware of it the producers were. The lack of social conscience was and is appalling.
With regard to Social Media, the argument assumes the form: “I grew up with it and it hasn’t troubled me!”. Go tell this to young girls who’ve been subjected to endless shaming over their looks. The claim is not only completely false, but dangerously harmful. Indeed, it’s led to suicidal thoughts and even to direct acts of suicides.
The first argument was also bolstered by the dubious claim that the fault lies completely with the receivers (the children) not the senders, thereby letting the producers of violent programs utterly off the hook. That is, there’s something wrong with the kids if they take the shows in the wrong ways.
The second argument is the claim that the numbers of people who are affected negatively by such content are too small to worry about. Thus, ”Why get rid of something that harms so few?”. Besides, “We already have too much government control over our lives. We can’t give it more. After all, The ‘Nanny State would ban everything if we let them.”
This argument is eerily close to those used by Anti-Vaxxers, namely, “The threat of Covid is overblown”. The numbers of those affected are too small to worry about. Given the millions who’ve died, it’s not only false, but completely irresponsible.
The third argument is the claim that “All the other channels are doing it (producing violent shows). If we follow your approach, our ratings will go down and we’ll both lose our jobs. Thus, in a complete reversal of the first argument where one claimed that one was Invulnerable to violent shows, now the claim that one is Vulnerable to losing one’s job takes center stage.
Arguments big and small make the world go around. They thereby infect (pun intended) every aspect of our lives.
One of the most important tasks with which we are constantly charged is identifying the key arguments that impact our lives and assessing their validity. Beating back false arguments is a never-ending job.
In an important move, the government in the U.K. has advanced what it calls the Online Safety Bill which will hold tech companies responsible for “harmful content” that’s accessible to young people under the age of 18[i]. It comes with serious threats of fines and jail times for executives who are found guilty. Needless to say, it raises concerns over what is deemed “harmful material” and who decides it. Nevertheless, the Bill is proceeding.
And, in a troubling note, The New York Times reports that Social Media platforms are cutting back their teams that monitor Disinformation[ii]. Don’t be surprised to see more gush forth.
[i] Technology, “Social media: U.K. threatens jail for harm to teens,” The Week, February 3,2023, P 20.
[ii] Steven Lee Myers and Nico Grant, “In Fight Against Disinformation, The Front Line Is Being Thinned,” The New York Times, Wednesday, February 15, 2023, PP A1 and A18.
Ian I. Mitroff is credited as being one of the principal founders of the modern field of Crisis Management. He has a BS, MS, and a PhD in Engineering and the Philosophy of Social Systems Science from UC Berkeley. He Is Professor Emeritus from the Marshall School of Business and the Annenberg School of Communication at USC. Currently, he is a Senior Research Affiliate in the Center for Catastrophic Risk Management, UC Berkeley. He is a Fellow of the American Psychological Association, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the American Academy of Management. He has published 41 books. His latest is: The Socially Responsible Organization: Lessons from Covid, Springer, New York, 2022.
Image by Vidmir Raic from Pixabay