We finally have an answer in the tragedy involving Dylan Farrow’s claims that Woody Allen sexually abused her: Woody is definitely guilty! (According to some random people online.) No wait, Dylan is lying and Woody is innocent! (According to some other random people online.)
Who’s right? Neither, duh. Because, let’s be clear, we do not know for sure what happened. Yet online commenters continue to express what they absolutely know to be true. It’s astonishing. More than that, it’s dangerous.
Check out this recent paper from the Social Psychology of Popular Media Culture. Yes, it’s a bit dry, but the findings are pretty telling: Namely, that social evidence indicates “individuals consider an action more appropriate when they see others reacting similarly to the situation” and that “social validation may be particularly influential online.”
In other words, people online are able to easily find those who agree with them, ignore opposing viewpoints, and feel especially “right” about their existing opinion. This process actively prevents a healthy examination of existing evidence—which in this case, it should be noted, will lead any well-intentioned party down a rabbit hole of facts and counter-facts with no known end.
Yes, people have a right to comment on this situation, and especially to use it to discuss larger social issues (including victim-shaming, the ugly side of attacks on Dylan). But Internet, listen up: No one else but those two people know exactly what happened. So stop pretending you know the truth and start doing what you do best: snarky blogs, LOL cat videos, cool GIFs. That’s why we loved you in the first place.