Two years ago, a lecturer asked my Journalism class if we felt that social media platforms were a useful tool for people to reach out to each other. Someone contributed to the discussion, saying that he felt it provided a useful space for people across the globe to interact and communicate with each other. I thoroughly disagreed. In theory, that is exactly how social media should benefit us. It should help us understand each other, but interacting with individuals we could not otherwise now have. But I was in the midst of Facebook sabbatical at the time – I needed a break from the experience of seeing thousands of people seemingly shouting at each other in a cyber-void.
When I got reconnected a few months later, I was disappointed to see that not much had changed. More political comments, more opinions on social justices – but less discursive communication. Additionally, I was introduced to “but let’s not start a fight on Facebook” for the very first time. I found that particularly perplexing. Are we so underdeveloped that a conversation involving two different opinions (that need not be completely opposing) would inevitably result in a fight? Can it not result in either – or both – of the parties engaging with information that would not have been considered otherwise?
On a social media platform, I will never say anything I do not fully believe in. Just because I believe in something, that does not mean I have the best idea about it, but I cannot learn until someone corrects what I say. That is why I like discussions (hence the existence of this blog) – there is the opportunity to learn. In the same breath, someone puts something controversial up on their social media profile, I am going to assume that they want to talk about it. I do not think that is an unreasonable assumption. If it’s not something you back up when it is being challenged, what purpose does it serve? If a comment on something that happens in society cannot enhance my understanding of it – or if I cannot add to your understanding of the situation – I fervently believe you should demote your online presence to resharing gifs of scenes from Parks and Recreation.
There are people who refuse to talk about what they share. And there are the self-appointed Facebook preachers. I think the preachers – “keyboard warriors” – are equally responsible for wasting the potential of online forums. Listen, I hate ignorance as much as the next person, but no-one is born with the knowledge of what it feels like to be every other person. Society breeds problematic behaviour and opinions, but conversations are the tools we have to fix them. Trust me on this one: pointing fingers is not an effective communicative tactic. Humans rarely take responsibility for their faults. That is infuriating, but if you are looking for empathy and change, it is something you need to work around.
When people talk about their experiences, you see them as peers, not causes. Imagine there was a forum where, globally, people could get together and rationalise problems together. Imagine responses started off with “I see your point, but I have experienced…” Imagine people did not see responses on matters as personal attacks.
Imagine people made Facebook useful.