Social media has taken a pervasive role in the daily lives of many internet users. Since 2012, the average daily user has increased their social media usage from 90 minutes a day to over 135 minutes a day. Previously, social media usage has been correlated with an increase in mental health disorders such as depression, low self worth, and anxiety. Still, recent studies have indicated that this increase may be due to the way we use social media, rather than how much we use it.
Enter into the mix The Orville, at times a bizarre parody of Star Trek and at times just bad TV. Terrible humor aside, The Orville does what so many other Star Trek series have done in the past: it explores social issues that are prominent in today’s society. Since the start of the series, the writers have explored the ethical and moral standing of issues such as gender reassignment surgery, theocratic governments, religious based warfare, and the social impact an advanced society can have on a more primitive society.
The seventh episode of the series, “Majority Rule,’ opted to explore the impact of social media on society. A quick warning, spoilers will follow.
In “Majority Rule”, the crew of the USS Orville arrive at a planet that resembles 21st century Earth to find two anthropologists who have been out of contact for over a month. In a deviation from the judicial system we might be familiar with, Sargas 4 utilizes a form of social media to pass judgement. Every citizen is linked into a “main feed” by wearing badges given to them when they turn 18. Each badge has two buttons, a down vote and an up vote, which affects their overall standing within the “main feed.”
Each person’s standing in society is affected by their down vote totals. They are encouraged to share videos of other citizens to the “main feed.” The morning news broadcast consists of various apology tours for those who have reached so many down votes. After 1,000,000 down votes, a person is considered a felon and must go on those apology tours. After 9,000,000 million votes, they’re considered guilty. After 10,000,000, they’re “corrected,” a process which removes all negative traits to prevent recurrences of undesired behaviors, before being reintegrated into society.
This “main feed” system is used to decide other things within society as well. At one point in time during the episode, it’s shown that something such as accepting a new vaccine or diet is dictated by the majority vote. As one of the Sargonian characters mentions, something is right or wrong based on what the majority says. Something’s acceptability or someone’s guilt or innocence is dependant solely upon the majority opinion. The majority rules.
Now, without going into much further detail about the episode itself, we can naturally expect that the crew will get caught up in this system to some end result or another. It wouldn’t be a Star Trek parody otherwise, and naturally in that Trek fashion, the main characters eventually all escape with their lives, but not without making an impact on the planet below. In the closing scene, our main Sargonian character ends up abstaining from the next vote, her perception of the system forever changed by the visitors from space.
Ultimately, that’s all that social media is. A game of perception and people using that game to their advantage. Sure, we don’t use Facebook to determine if someone is guilty or innocent of a perceived crime, but as we’ve seen recently, Facebook was allegedly used by Russia to attempt to change our perception of the candidates during the 2016 election. It’s used to promote both sides of the vaccination movement, gun control, environmental issues, or any number of other things which impact our lives and the lives of those around us. But we also use to it make judgements about our own lives as they compare to the lives of those around us. Regardless, the view we are given is a matter of the perception the presenter wants us to see.
So the next time you log into Facebook and are inundated with all the negativity of the world, or you finding yourself feeling hopeless at it all or see your cousin in Wisconsin pregnant and wanting a baby of your own, think of The Orville with all its hokey humor, and remember: there’s more sides to the story than you’ll ever be given through social media. Then turn off the feed and go pet a kitten. No one needs to spend 135 minutes a day living in a game of perception.
Photo made available by Jakob Owens via Unsplash