Although I did not grow up with social media, I barely remember a time without it. The act of checking my feed has become routine and at times, addictive. I do find it ironic that the technology meant to connect us and keep us informed has created a culture that is more disconnected and uninformed than ever. But, perhaps the greatest tragedy of social media is our loss of ability to carry on rational conversations, debates and disagreements.
Behind the false security of a computer screen, we are brazen in our opinions and brave with our words. Things we would never dream to speak aloud, we freely scream on Twitter and Facebook. We can choose to ignore or block that with which we disagree and we, without consequence, taunt and threaten those that dare to dissent. Gone are the days where we shouldered the responsibility of the words we speak.
Freedom of Speech is one of our most powerful and coveted rights (except, perhaps the right to bear arms, which if highly ironic). Despite this, there always have been consequences for using that speech to libel, slander, threaten, harm or intimidate. Those types of speech are not protected by the First Amendment, but they are seemingly protected by the anonymity of the internet. Our laws are just beginning to catch up, but it will be decades before we are close to both protecting Free Speech on the internet and also regulate non-protected speech.
This is not the greatest threat to American Democracy, however. Internet bullies and trolls are a terrible side effect, but they are merely an annoying gnat compared to the loss of rational debate, reputable news and respect of differing ideas. Over the past decade we’ve lost all traces of common sense. We’ve lost the ability to treat each other with respect. We’ve lost our willingness to learn new ideas and thoughts. We’ve lost our desire for seeking out factual information. We’ve surrounded ourselves with like minded friends and ignore those with differing opinions. We’ve rejected the notion that our diversity of thought is what makes us great.
I am just as guilty as anybody on all of these, but I am working to do and be better. I’m working my way out of my liberal bubble and trying to understand what the Right has to say. I don’t always like what I hear or read and I don’t always keep my mouth shut, nor will I ever keep my mouth shut when I encounter injustice, inequality, oppression and false/fake news or misinformation.
To make matters worse, we have major political candidates and influences not only embracing fake news and misinformation but also discrediting and rejecting the Press. We have a president-elect that is actively working to discredit and destroy journalism. We have a president-elect that is refusing intelligence and security briefings. We have a president-elect that is opting to rant on Twitter rather than hold press conferences. This is dangerous and it is an attack on the very freedoms we hold dear.
What we have got to figure out – before it is too late – is how we can reengage and encourage diversity of thought and ideas. At one time, both parties worked together for the common good. We have to figure out how to do this again or the divisions between us will only grow stronger and more dangerous.
In the grand scheme of things I would like to believe that all Americans want the same thing – a safe place to raise families, living wages, equal opportunity and the ability to leave a planet for our children and their children to grow up on. We have to want this not only for ourselves, but also for our neighbors. We only succeed when we all succeed – getting ahead by breaking the back of those below you isn’t true success.
This desire should unite us, not divide us.