Social Media has provided a platform for everyone to speak our minds. The ‘social’ aspect is often traded in, reformatted as a sounding board for our opinions and thoughts, allowing them to bounce off an echo chamber of people affirming said opinions. Often, we end up creating a bubble, removing the people whose opinions are in contradiction to our own.
These echo chambers and sounding boards have helped to foster a belief that our opinions are more than just opinions – they are the ultimate truth, simply because we believe them.
Whether intentionally or unintentionally, we begin to create and craft a divide, asserting our own opinions as right and others as being wrong.
We draw a virtual line in the sand, creating a divide for two sides – ours, and theirs.
I joined the social media world when I was 14 years old. It was a very different place back then, limited to chat rooms, message boards, and forums. Facebook wasn’t even a concept, and MySpace still hadn’t quite taken off. There were still arguments and trolls, heavy-handed opinions, and dark, creepy corners of the Internet sane people avoided.
The biggest difference between then and now was that the world didn’t revolve around the web. Social Media was something we participated in when we had time, but it wasn’t all-consuming. We didn’t have a constant access to it. Most of us were still on dial-up.
But now, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Reddit, Instagram, etc., are all connected to us at all hours of the day. We have it on our phones, our home computers, our work computers.
We spend more time talking to people online than we do interacting face-to-face.
And while there are certainly benefits to this online world (I can’t knock it too much, it’s how I met my husband and my two best friends), there is a lot of negative. This great divide is one such thing.
As we’ve become more ‘plugged-in’ the atmosphere has begun to warp into the one we are currently seeing. Respectful discussion warped quickly into dissent and division, and everyone’s eyes, ears, and minds slammed shut.
In all fairness, the majority of ‘hot topics’ over which this seems to happen have always caused anger-driven controversy. Race, politics, religion, gender rights, abortion, and poverty – they have all led to heated arguments long before Social Media was even a blip on the radar. But now, the chasm between opposing sides has grown much deeper and darker.
Now, you’re a Liberal or Conservative, Social Justice Warrior or a hateful bigot, libtard or a racist.
Both sides have erased the shades of grey in-between, painting anyone who dares to question their stance as the opposition.
Worse than that – the opposition is no longer framed as simply seeing things differently, but is, in most cases, the enemy.
What it all boils down to is that people have simply stopped listening. We are so busy declaring our opinions as the only possible truths, that in order to justify refusing to listen to those other views, we have condensed people into a tiny little box filled with hateful labels. If they are all those things, then we are justified in not giving them an inch and keeping our minds closed. We forget that growth and change never come from screaming, yelling and name-calling, but from calmly listening and considering the thoughts of those with different views.
I’m fairly certain a large part of it is that underlying fear that we are wrong. Why else would we get so angry over the mere idea that someone believes differently?
When we allow ourselves to consider and listen to the other side, we develop the opportunity to understand where they are coming from.
Doing this has the potential for many results – including the chance that either our own opinion may change, or we may develop a deeper compassion for those opposing views.
We need to stop being driven by the obsession of being right and start being driven by compassion and a deep desire to see positive change instead of negative discourse. Only then will we be able to overcome this growing divide.
I won’t deny that there are questionable opinions out there. That some of the people creating some of the greatest divides do so on the grounds of hate and superiority. But when has dousing fire with fire ever helped to reduce the flames to nothing more than just embers?
There is one other solution as well – taking a step back. Move away from the comment sections, away from the angry people whose minds will not be opened, and save your energy for those moments when you can effect positive change.
Open your own mind and learn, and grow, and allow different ideas to be presented. You might just be surprised at what you find out.