Forward This?  Maybe Not!


Olúfẹ́mi Táíwò

By Olúfẹ́mi Táíwò

This is for you if, as I assume, you are like many human beings in this era and are on one social media platform or another.  Of course, even when it is limited, the phenomenon of group members forwarding materials—audio and video clips, texts, graphics—to one another is standard fare on social media in our time.

Whatever good reasons there are for forwarding materials to group audiences, without regard to the heterogeneity of tastes that is to be expected in diverse groups, outside of their specific reasons for getting together—same alma maters, shared interests, hobbies, games, travel, politics, religions—we know that many recipients of forwarded messages often enough have felt put upon by their being at the receiving end of such unsolicited postings.

Many have exited groups on account of their discomfort, resentment, undue tax on their time, affront to their tastes, and suchlike, with repeated postings of unsolicited materials on their shared platforms.  Additionally, because of the ease and speed with which misinformation, untruths, half-truths, and dangerous advice on everything from nutrition to cancer, at the present time, the coronavirus pandemic, not to talk of politics, can be spread, nearly all of the corporations that own these media platforms have put in place various checks on forwarding materials on their respective platforms.

Moreover, numerous etiquette regimes are now routinely distributed across those groups alerting their members to how to be considerate of their co-members when they are thinking of forwarding materials on their fora.  And there are write-ups on the harm that is done to the recipients of such unwanted materials by their not so considerate fellows.  This piece adds another cautionary note on the perils of forwarding materials.

In the rest of this piece, I take a different tack.  Instead of the usual concern with the undesirable consequences for the recipients of unsolicited forwarded materials, I would like to focus on the harm that senders may not be aware they are doing to themselves.

I have been motivated to write this because, as a social media user, I am privy to all the headaches caused by unsolicited materials in my inbox, and I have gone through the motley reactions that others have reported: anger, frustration, amusement, sadness, incomprehension, and so on.  Over time, as I allow myself to fall in love with the “Delete” button and keep my focus on my original reason for deciding to sign on to those platforms, I am at peace with the shenanigans of my co-residents.  But I also try, and this is not easy, to resist the urge to delete without, in many cases, taking a look, cursory or sustained, at the materials.

This was how I came to discover that those who are all too eager to forward stuff will do well to pause and ask themselves whether it is prudent to proceed on that course.  My caution is a simple one: consider that you may, by your action, be disclosing much more to your recipients than the material you are forwarding, or you permit yourself to think you are sharing.

Pause a bit before forwarding anything and consider what I say next.  Among your recipients are people like me who pay more attention than you think will be paid to what you are sharing, who think about the assumptions that undergird what you think is worth sharing and why, even though, especially when, you have not adverted your mind to it, and who reflect on and draw implications of what you share for our perception of who you are, what your preferences are, what you think of sundry things, ranging from your spouse, to your children, men and women, religion, social relations, politics, friendship, and so forth.

What you send may not have attracted a jot of thinking on your part respecting whether you should send it.  But that your forwarding reflects thoughtlessness, carelessness or lack of good taste, cannot redound to our view of your person and your wisdom or maturity, sincerity or concern for good quality.

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For example, when you forward stuff that some might consider sexist or degrading of women to your friends who know that you have a poor taste in jokes or share the same standpoint as you that women are fair game for sexist jokes, sexual objectification, and so on, there would be no problem.  I doubt, though, that even if you fit the description I just offered, you want to broadcast that fact to the world beyond your circle of friends and family.  But that, exactly, is what your posting has done.

Often, those sexist materials do reflect to some of us that you never outgrew high school and adolescent shenanigans respecting displaying macho or celebrating what the eyes of age and progress in thought should teach or has taught us to regard as unacceptable and to be shunned.  Do you ask yourself what impression your posting is giving your recipients respecting your view of the women in your life?

I do not even want to draw your attention to your inadvertent posting to your co-members of some of your porn feed!

There’s the category of postings carrying the, to me, “much forwarded” tag.  Pause and ask yourself: if the post is much forwarded, what are the chances that your recipients are not already part of the crowd to whom it is so forwarded?

The one that is truly annoying to me now are the postings trumpeting non-Yorùbá subjects, especially Caucasians, speaking Yorù̀bá or singing Yorùbá songs, as if there is anything special about such performances. No, they are not special.  They would be special if they were non-humans performing such feats.  Humans speaking, singing, writing, and doing suchlike human things in languages other than their own is routine: how often do Caucasians send along videos of our African children performing in languages other than their own?  When we send this along, even if unintended, what we are doing is trivializing our inheritance and acting as if those who so embrace our language are doing anything special.  It reduces our inheritance to trivial curios.  Please stop sending such to me.

When you forward stuff that claims to inform, especially in these times, on matters of health and well-being, and it turns out either what you post is false, has been debunked, is an internet legend, or the author is not qualified to instruct in the field concerned, it is only a mistake if you had done due diligence in checking your sources before you posted it.  Otherwise, it tells your correspondents, again, not all of them, but many who are not close to you and have no understanding of your integrity, that you are a heedless, unthinking purveyor of ignorance and, maybe, fraud.

I do not need to multiply examples.  I hope that this helps us to reflect a moment, pause, and ask of each thing we are tempted to forward to an audience beyond our close associates who know us and are inclined to give us the benefit of the doubt: Forward this? I am sure, most times, the answer will be: Maybe not!

-Olúfẹ́mi Táíwò teaches at the Africana Studies and Research Center, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, U.S.A. 


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