My latest Greenville News column. The Case for Online Civility and Humility
We live in very contentious times. The focus lately has been on the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings, but it’s only the latest powder-keg in our national dialogue; or lack thereof.
I know this because I both use social media and contribute to it. As a columnist and blogger, I have accounts in various platforms. Although I’m no expert in electronic communication trends, I have seen a remarkable escalation of the anger, the invective, the accusations and counter-accusations that make up the American ‘online’ political scene.
As such I’d like to point out a few observations. First of all, and perhaps most important, we need to remember that whenever we’re arguing online, or posting and reposting the latest, most clever commentary or meme, we are in essence spending the precious heartbeats of our lives on a stupid social media platform. We rarely change any minds, but often simply entrench our own beliefs and those of others.
This leads me to another bit of hard reality. It seems there’s psychological evidence that we tend to decide what we believe then go and find research, articles, images and people that support what we have already chosen to to believe. We like to think we’re objective and that we all ‘follow the evidence’ in this allegedly scientific age. But we probably don’t do that as much as we think. Add to this the fact that the latest research studies (and certainly news reports) on many topics are often refuted before we can say ‘statistics,’ and it becomes evident that we should probably show a lot more humility in our discussions.
Another thing to keep in mind before launching our online artillery is that no matter what we may think about those other folks who are ‘just…so…wrong,’ the truth is that they aren’t stupid. They, we, all have many reasons for the things we believe. They are based on education, reflection, experience, economics, sickness, health, gender, sexuality, religiosity, culture…the list goes on.
Despite that knowledge, it’s awfully easy to ignore the many perspectives people bring to the table, and simply lump our enemies into a big box labeled ‘uneducated.’ This accusation often means we think that they didn’t attend the right schools, or perhaps didn’t get a college education. But that’s not acceptable either. Because there are many ways (and now more than ever) that people can be informed citizens. And not all of them involve college degrees or graduate school. And nowhere in our constitution does it say that only those with degrees have access to the political process.
It would seem that whatever our worldview, there are good reasons to show more grace. For those of us in the Bible Belt who profess Christianity, it’s worth pointing out that Jesus didn’t give us any exceptions to loving our enemies if those enemies were on Facebook, Twitter or anywhere else. Period. We would also do well to remember that if we profess our faith online, then our discussions should reflect the character of a Christ-follower.
Obviously many people are non-theists who are ethical, skeptical and try to live by science. It’s important for them to remember that odds are, people with different views about culture, faith or politics may sometimes be acting on very deep, very unconscious tendencies that are the result not only of family and culture but even of DNA itself, shaped down the eons by struggles.
Finally, I would like to remind everyone that whenever we get sucked into the black hole of yet another argument online; whenever we get drawn in by the drama we are in essence being duped by algorithms that put things in front of us to increase clicks.
And increased clicks and increased time online cause us to become addicted to the neurological reward of likes and comments. More to the point, we thereby help bring more and more advertising revenue into the already enormous accounts of those who own various social media platforms. It has been said ‘if the product is free, you’re the product.’
You, me, all of us are being used by social media to create lucrative controversy. It’s ‘Yellow Journalism’ all over again. But in the process we’re osing sleep, losing friends, losing peace, losing our already fragile minds, and as I alluded, losing beautiful days, fun activities and time with loved ones.
Maybe a good, simple guideline is this. Post unto others as you would have others post unto you. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?