Called Out And #Cancelled
Social media is social in terms of connecting more people to each other in an easily accessible way. However, deep conversation and comprehension of others’ perspectives have largely been lost in the social media world. People are divided by political and social affiliations and often collide with, rather than absorb information from others with differing viewpoints. Any form of ignorance or error made online is scrutinized and vilified, making these connections more anxiety-producing and discouraging. Even though calling out someone for expressing discriminatory viewpoints and giving false information has made people more aware of “problematic” viewpoints and actions, it has also led to a fear of sharing viewpoints and segregation of, rather than conversations with, people who hold different beliefs and perspectives. Misunderstanding and hostility on social media has promoted the idea that any expression of ignorance, error, or prejudice makes you a permanently “problematic person”, blocking out meaningful, in-depth conversation that would make social media activism more effective at reaching those outside of the choir.
Pushing Away Versus Pulling In
When people cut off communication with others who have different viewpoints, it can defeat the purpose of opening up dialogue. Being vilified for posting something viewed as “problematic” without the intent to harm can push people away from engaging in conversation both online and in-person. Fear of posting something that could possibly be viewed as insensitive or ignorant has led some people to be extremely reluctant to post much of anything on social media. There is an expectation put on people, especially college students, to be aware of so many things going on in the world. As a result, if someone does not immediately change their controversial opinion on something, they are torn apart on social media and discredited as a person. Even if they modify their opinion after learning more about why their opinion is misinformed and possibly hurtful, they may be ridiculed for changing their perspective too slowly. How does someone come back from that? Why bother having a conversation at all after being stamped as an ignorant, problematic person?
Word Play And Misinterpretations
Whether it be safe spaces or feminism, words and terms can have multiple meanings and interpretations. Learning about others’ experiences and why they have the viewpoints they have has been neglected in social media discourse. A pair of people may argue over a topic without understanding how each person interprets the terms essential to that topic. For example, someone may interpret a safe space as a place, usually on a college campus, where marginalized groups can discuss openly about their identities and experiences without harsh criticism. Another established definition of the term in academic environments is that it is a space where students can freely exchange ideas without being silenced, regardless of how much that viewpoint may differ from the socially acceptable viewpoints on that campus. Others mistakenly interpret it as being equivalent the dreaded term, “coddling”. As a result, many disputes occur over social media that amount to ridiculing each other for supporting or opposing safe spaces rather than having a discussion about the characteristics of these spaces. Along with this, people may hold onto their interpretation of the term so tightly that they are not willing to expand their interpretation.
Having Meaningful Conversations
Listening to understand why someone has the beliefs they have has been made more difficult with the public and surface-level nature of social media. Tonality and context are not often presented when someone shares an opinion about a topic or situation, unless their post is very long. People are also less inclined to thoroughly read a long post as opposed to listening to the same words in a video or face-to-face conversation. Face-to-face and phone conversations are more conducive to generating an understanding between individuals because body language, tone, and clarification is easier to access and express. However, social media can be used to connect people who may want to meet one day and start conversations outside of social media. Also, according to journalist Celeste Headlee, increasing understanding and empathy toward another person requires listening to perspectives and where they come from instead of trying to lecture someone on why their viewpoint is wrong. People can’t truly reach each other if they don’t comprehend what makes that person the way they are.
Although it would be very difficult for people to willingly do, maintaining contact with people with opposing viewpoints on social media would allow people to become more tolerant of being exposed to these viewpoints. Since social media and the internet are formatted to expose users to pages and information related to their past searches and interests, actively looking for articles and posts by people who do not fit into one’s echo chamber is important for social activists to understand the rationale of perspectives that do not align with their own. It’s not very realistic to expect the majority of people to be well informed about most social issues, communities, cultures, etc. Sustained communication between individuals is essential to in-depth discussion that could lead to a change in perspective on an issue. Activists that show someone with a controversial perspective that they understand their perspective, that person would be more willing to communicate more with that activist and possibly change their perspective over time.
With the immediacy afforded to us by social media, hasty comments block out critical thinking. People are so quick to demean a person for making a post without knowing the context. A context can be fabricated in the minds of people viewing the comments. People are more likely to think more critically about a viewpoint rather than outright dismissing it when listening or watching a video of someone speaking as opposed to reading a post. The hostile and unforgiving climate of social activism has closed off meaningful discussion more than it has opened it.
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