Having lately dealt with repeated clashes on my Facebook page from sharing politically-oriented articles, which were promptly berated by family members, the readings I present here gave me additional clarity about what was happening. They provided a framework that helped me foster an understanding of the reasons and causes for these types of reactions from a wider perspective. Though these essays eschew possible private reasons, it was helpful to realize these interactions are symptomatic of larger issues.
Without going into detail about my experiences, I found myself explaining my position repeatedly and not being heard or even having my view accepted as a legitimate based on the evidence presented. I tried to be clear, corroborate my convictions with facts, exercise patience and respect, and yet the discussion deteriorated. It yielded no positive direction nor a respite from attack, which has tended to become increasingly, and alarmingly, personal, assuming the worst about my opinions and beliefs while taking aim at my employment status.
I’ve been trying to figure out what went wrong, and I’ve gravitated towards the opinions in two pieces of writing that places the blame not so much on individuals, but rather focuses on how such events arise as byproducts of social media design.
“How do folks continue to ignore facts? How have people’s viewpoints become so insular and isolated that any contradictory information never even penetrates the bubble? How did we get to a point where dialogue is impossible? And I’m not just referring to this presidential race, but to many other areas of discussion as well. Am I imagining this or has the echo chamber, where one only hears what one agrees with, expanded in scope and at the same time had the effect of increasing that anger and the inability to have a dialogue?”
Byrne cites many interesting sources, but one that stood out to me was by New York Times writer Thomas Friedman. His article, “Social Media: Destroyer or Creator” centered on the role social media took in the Egyptian revolution of 2011 during the Arab Spring, chronicled by the actions of Wael Ghonim utilizing Facebook to spread and inspire change.
Meditating on many of the failed aspects of the rebellion, particularly due to the intense political polarization and inability to reach consensus, Ghonim delivered these thoughts about social media today:
1. “We don’t know how to deal with rumors. Rumors that confirm people’s biases are now believed and spread among millions of people.”
2. “We tend to only communicate with people that we agree with, and thanks to social media, we can mute, un-follow and block everybody else.”
3. “Online discussions quickly descend into angry mobs. … It’s as if we forget that the people behind screens are actually real people and not just avatars.”
4. “It became really hard to change our opinions. Because of the speed and brevity of social media, we are forced to jump to conclusions and write sharp opinions in 140 characters about complex world affairs. And once we do that, it lives forever on the Internet.”
5. “Today, our social media experiences are designed in a way that favors broadcasting over engagements, posts over discussions, shallow comments over deep conversations. … It’s as if we agreed that we are here to talk at each other instead of talking with each other.”
These two compositions don’t entirely answer every question or address all of the problems that are unique to my situation, but I can see their reflection in distinct elements in what I’ve witnessed.
In contemplating these notions on the blog instead, my transition away from particular types of social media is certainly a conscious one. I cannot completely ignore social media, and it plays roles beyond sharing my thoughts, opinions, and knowledge. I need to remember this more often, what it’s good at and what it struggles with on different platforms, and consider the greater reach of the blog, beyond friends and acquaintances. I prefer to facilitate conversation and allow people to have those dialogues on their own with whomever they choose to talk to about the issue raised. In other words, I recognize the tendencies Facebook creates in types of responses, its limitations as a forum, and I think my views are better expressed on here. I haven’t so much removed myself as transferred to a more suitable outlet.
This tendency towards an echo chamber is not entirely compulsory due to the medium’s structure, but is also an act of volition. This has been a disturbing trend: blocking people with dissenting opinions. There is also the purgatory of marginalization to limit viewership of certain items without having to commit completely to removing someone. Both these acts imprison one’s outlook. It was a feature that was likely developed to prevent unwanted harassment, but is then being used to exercise exclusion from competing views.
I still intend to use my preferred forms of social media, but it’s writing like this that allows me to more fully and adequately express an idea or point. I can then choose to share it on Facebook, but the record doesn’t solely live or die there. They can be debated or argued on a post, but the character assassination doesn’t have to reach quite so close to home.
I leave with these great words: