With social media taking up more and more of our time and mental energy, Nathan Young critiques the popular trend of posting Hot Takes.
It goes almost without saying that politics, like everything else, has been changed utterly by social media. Platforms such as Twitter and Facebook have been used for everything from organising protest movements such as the Arab Springs to sharing racist conspiracy theories with estranged relatives. It would be shortsighted or plain ignorant to proclaim social media has had a wholly negative effect on politics, but it hasn’t exactly lived up to the once dreamed of democratising effect of the internet early computer scientists promised, either.
There is one form of engagement, however, that is both incredibly popular, especially among younger people, and desperately in need of a drastic culling, if not outright abolition. That form of engagement is the Hot Take. Those posts, usually on websites such as Twitter, TikTok, and Tumblr, that consist of a short statement of an opinion. The opinion is always framed as controversial, even or especially when it is popular with the followers of the person stating it, and often framed as a “dunk” on an opposing position. By definition, an attempt at good-faith engagement or nuance is not a Hot Take.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with a bit of mockery and humour, or statements of opinion, but as it currently stands the purpose of the Hot Take is to prove one’s holding of correct opinion, to garner clout from having said something already agreed with by their followers. Serious engagement with good-faith criticism, along with nuance does not qualify. People trying to earnestly convince their political opponents of their argument, or understand the criticisms of their own argument do not garner the clout that the Hottest Take can achieve.
Historically, this mode of engagement had been the sole domain of media professionals, of columnists, pundits, and talking heads. Between the beginning of radio and television to the invention of social media, having a platform to express one’s poorly thought out opinions as fact and deflect criticism has been the reserve of a class of “opinion makers” and “thought leaders”. Some of them had the saving grace of being better writers than the average social media poster (Norman Podhoretz is at least literate), and most had the unspoken excuse that they are at least getting paid for their idiotic musings (think of your own example). Social media users do it for free.
A common trait of Hot Takes is that they come from a position of woeful ignorance. The end result tends to be that incredibly reactionary opinions are voiced by people thinking that they are oh-so-woke and knowledgeable. Some examples include the idea that people in their early twenties are too immature to consent to sex with anyone older, that it is racist for a white woman to wear space-buns, that those convicted of rape should face some unspeakably cruel punishment or death, and that white men hold too much social power over women of colour making a truly equal and consensual relationship is impossible.
These 'takes' conclude in prohibitions against miscegenation and infantilise large numbers of grown adults, and endorse medieval understandings of law and order. All of them are taken from a starting point of correctly identifying an issue, applying no reason or understanding of the political and philosophical thought existing on the subject, and making stupid blanket statements.
To be clear, abusive relationships are all too prevalent in our society, and far too many men feel they are at liberty to treat young women and queer people as either objects or targets. Noble as it may be to try to reduce this, the solution will be not be prohibiting eighteen-year-olds from downloading Grindr and hooking up with older men, nor will it be in any other variation of telling consenting adults that actually their adulthood is not enough for them to make their own decisions. Likewise, racism is not going to be ended or even reduced by puritanical efforts to prevent a warped version of “appropriation” or “fetishisation” from occurring. As for rapists, the abolition of torture and human sacrifice as methods of punishment for crime is an achievement for civilisation, no matter how evil the criminal. Nuanced examinations of the social ills of racism and abuse exist in the media, activism, and academia. People serious about dealing with these issues would do well to focus here instead.
Another issue with the Hot Take is that it can lead to a replacement of real politics. People can easily use having the most correct opinions on all issues as a substitute for having made the most difference. This is not to echo right-wing talking points condemning 'virtue signalling' or 'white knighting'. A post expressing solidarity with a victim or cause can be welcome. Critical support can also be welcome. Recently the National Women’s Council of Ireland (NWCI) appointed Trans Rights activist Sara Phillips to its Board of Directors, which was met with a wave of transphobic nonsense online. Many people posted their unconditional support for Phillips, while others stated that while they thought the NWCI is flawed, Phillips’ appointment was a step towards rectifying this. Some sanctimonious posters chose this time as the opportune moment to declare that the NWCI was always, and will always be, dreadful. Potentially true, but not exactly helping the cause of trans rights which same posters tend to support.
For what it’s worth, “men are trash” is woke for “boys will be boys” and the latter is deserving of all the same feminist critiques as the former. If a woman says it after being hurt by a man, that’s one thing, but when repeated by men on the internet as a demonstration of their position of 'one of the good men', it’s pathetic. Like other Hot Takes, it’s stated to show that one has the correct opinion without actively engaging in any real critical thought around gender or activism.
None of this is to say that posting Hot Takes is either a moral failing or even always a bad thing. On social media platforms ‘likes’ and ‘shares’, countable engagements, are what measures success, and that success is used to calculate how often to show a post on other users' news feeds. The point of these platforms is to maximise engagement so as to sell more advertisements, and nothing more. Save agreeing to pay a subscription, there is nothing much users can do to change this model. Instead, people should choose between logging off, or at least trying to read some theory before they post. The alternative is having the same arguments about the same subjects ad nauseam without ever progressing or real ideas. In this, social media may as well be cable news.