Judgmentalism has been a staple of societal life for longer than I’m even capable of understanding, and as such, folks have been handing out criticisms for just as long. It’s common practice for creators to look down on other creations, and moreover, to bestow opinions on current events without ever being asked. It’s an issue that has surely been around for some time, but it feels as if social media has only served to add fuel to the proverbial fire.
Talking heads of the tube were bad enough, but at least there were only a smattering of those. Now, we have billions of those same heads, and unlike television, their words remain linkable, searchable, and retweetable ad infinitum.
Even Google’s executive chairman Eric Schmidt has been one to admit that — like almost anything — the Internet can be used for good and evil. As it turns out, so can social. The Arab Spring, which occurred between 2010 and 2012, relied heavily on social media to arrange complicated last-minute logistics in what essentially became a series of revolutions against heavy-handed dictators. You’ll surely find pundits who would argue that these folks were using social to rebel against a sane and just government, but conventional wisdom would say that social enabled an oppressed group to rise up, create structure around their cause, and eventually enjoy freedoms that they’d longed for.
Conversely, social has been used to ruin lives.
Very recently, Zelda Williams was harassed to an extreme by regular people on Twitter — people who felt the need to spend a few moments of their day tweeting unnecessary photos of her deceased father at her account. Yes, some humans have always made other humans yearn to belong to a different species, but social has unfortunately allowed everyone with an Internet connection to be more than a critic. To become difference makers.
I know firsthand the pain of the pen. In my earliest months as a writer, I felt the wrath of the unchecked commenting system. For whatever reason, anonymous comment sections have almost never generated meaningful discourse (forcing even prestigious publications like Popular Science to nix comments entirely). Instead, I was slammed for various views — not views on things that matter, mind you, but views on things like megahertz and kilobytes. After appearing in a particular Engadget Show segment, I received an email that simply said: “you’re one of the worst looking people i’ve ever seen. ever, dude.”
Mercifully, both comment sections and personal inboxes aren’t nearly as globally accessible as social. Fast forward a few years, and similar hurtful experiences are happening on a much larger scale.
To me, the issue here isn’t that the likes of Facebook and Twitter are enabling dark, twisted thoughts to more easily surface. That’s just the manifestation of the real ailment. The root of this is what we’ve all accepted the Internet to be. For some reason, intelligent human beings simply accept the fact that online message boards, comment sections, and vast swaths of social media are wastelands for deleterious words and media. Just like Southern Californians accept that the 101 and the 405 are going to be endlessly stop-and-go.
With social, however, the wasteland has the potential to do much more than just wallow in its own misery. Social is viral by its very nature, and the more quickly a running thought spreads, the more quickly it can change real lives. The upside to this is immense. There are people in countries today that have more freedom than they once did, and social played at least a small part in that. In fact, the upside is too great to try to hush social as a whole.
But the downside — giving real voices to those who seek to destroy — is equally immense. I don’t claim to offer any grand solutions, but I do know that each of us play a role in what defines the next trending wave. If we’d all pause for a few seconds and realize just how potent our words on social are before mashing send… well, that’d probably be a solid start.