More Fallacies of Argument: Taking a Guilt Trip

We’ve all seen them in our Facebook feeds: a pathos-ridden comment about a kid with cancer or a note about an Iraq veteran living on the streets with a photo of the kid, the vet, or more likely a tree or other unrelated nature image. The image is then followed by the guilt tripping phrase “99% of you won’t repost” because nothing says “help the suffering” more than free-floating guilt. Now, there’s nothing wrong with sharing inspirational posts about kids triumphing over diseases or concern about treatment of war vets—in fact both of those things are important social issues. The annoying bit of beef stuck in my craw is the little sliver of bone called the guilt trip. Fine, share your pathos, but skip the repost shaming: I am not a bad human if I don’t have the time to share your social media tripe. I have to go help out at the Red Cross disaster relief site.

Such posts make use of a type of fallacious argument known as the overly sentimental appeal.  As a concerned citizen and conscientious Ph.D. in rhetoric I am obligated to point out fallacies when I see them. It’s in the fine print of my diploma. This is not the first time I’ve discussed types of fallacious arguments. In fact, once I get through ten or twelve more of these, I’m going turn the whole list into a PowerPoint and start up a lecture series at my local library. You’re all invited. It will be free to the public. Get there early since the crowds will make parking a challenge. Anyway, the short explanation of this particular fallacy is when someone attempts to make an argument that uses emotion in place of reason to manipulate the audience. “In place” of means “instead of.” “Manipulate” means “twist your audience around like a jerk to get them to kowtow to your ideas, you bully.” Also, fallacious means false. That’s sort of a key word in all of these bad appeals: false. Just an FYI.

The problem I have is not one of sharing important issues on Facebook; it’s with the repost guilt trip nonsense. Who makes these things anyway?  The ones that bug me the most are the prayers and religious ones. I don’t share your religious beliefs so I don’t share your religious posts. I am the 99%. So, I actually won’t repost your prayer to Jesus for the people of [fill in the recent disaster] and I won’t let you shame me for it. Explain how reposting a fallacious and overly sentimental appeal helps people, or how my ignoring the post fails them somehow. Out of curiosity, how many of you re-posters volunteered to actually lend a hand in [the recent disaster]? Just curious.  Not sharing doesn’t have anything to do with whether or not I am an empathetic person, it has to do with me not blindly buying into collective guilt tripping and sharing every single thing that says "share." Also, I don’t click every animated gif I see that says “click here.” That’s how you get spam for penis enlargement.

Whenever I see these posts, I consider responding by making a post that is a picture of Bruce Campbell holding a shotgun, with an overlaid quote saying something very serious about blood and human flesh, and then putting it up on Facebook followed by a note that says “Help get Ash home from the war with the army of darkness. 99% of you won’t repost." The 1% that do clearly understand satire. Also, if you haven’t seen the movie Army of Darkness, you are a bad person . . . is an example of an ad hominem fallacy. More on that in next week’s episode of Zen and the Art of Not Being a D!ck on Social Media. That actually sounds like a show I would watch. Or narrate.

In summation, stop trying to guilt trip your friends on Facebook. As an alternative trip, I suggest you log off and head south to help clean up after last weekend’s tornadoes.