In a recent interview with Variety’s Awards Circuit podcast, the Daily Show host expressed his grievances about the general public was so quick to write Smith off after the controversial incident at the 94th annual Academy Awards.
“I find it fascinating,” he explained. “If we look at it through the scales of justice, or even if you just think of it through the lens of humanity, how many rights are worth a wrong and what wrong erases all the rights? When is a person now vile?”
I was shocked at how many people immediately just went, ‘Will Smith is a trash human being and he’s the worst human, he should be in jail.’ I was like, ‘Whoa, wow. Okay.’ That was really interesting for me. As opposed to saying, this person who we’ve loved for so long, who has put not a foot wrong anywhere. Something went wrong here. Something really went wrong, what went wrong? Should we get in that? Should we delve into the humanity of it? Should we ask, should we question? Should we care? Nope, nope, that’s not the world we live in anymore.
People instantly get defined. And you cannot exist in a gray space. You cannot be a good person who’s done a bad thing. And you cannot be a bad person who does a good thing. You’re either a good person or a bad person. And that is it. And then society flip flops with you, depending on your last action. I try not to allow myself to get sucked into that too much.”
What arguably makes that task easier said than done, however, is the presence of social media with its low capacity of for nuanced and multi-layered discourse. And it’s something that Noah attributes to our desire for mass engagement rather than mass understanding.
“I think one of the worst things social media has done to us is, it has rewarded the hot take,” he explained. “It has rewarded the most extreme version of any opinion that is out there. If you put out a nuanced opinion, in a tweet, unfortunately, the algorithm is not going to push that as far because it doesn’t engage as many people and engagements is what social media is trying to achieve. The problem is, the best way to get the most engagements is by inflaming tensions. And while that’s great for the bottom line of a social media company, it’s terrible for us as human beings.”
He later added, “If I wanted to get everybody’s attention on the freeway, the best way to do it, is to cause a giant accident. Everyone’s going to stop and everyone’s going to look, but that’s terrible for the freeway. I like to think of us as society, we’re on the freeway, we’re all trying to get somewhere. On social media, that algorithm knows, if I can turn this into a giant catastrophe, a huge pileup, then I’ll get everybody to stop and chime in. And I don’t think that’s the best thing for us as people.”