I was talking to some folks today about social media, and got a question I didn’t feel like I answered well. It was along the lines of,
How is social media contributing to the downfall of civility in our society today?
My quick answer is: It’s not.
My longer answer is [hopefully better than I phrased it this afternoon]:
Social media is a tool. Period. Social media doesn’t contribute to anger or incivility any more than washing machines do. What social media has done in the past few years is reveal that many of us are angry. Social media has given many people an amplified voice — people who previously only could express their anger at the dinner table or around the water cooler at work.
In addition, the more extensive media saturation in our society [both old and new media] may provide information to people about things they used to not know about — thus allowing them to be angry about things that would have made them mad 30 years ago, had those things been publicly known.
This kind of question makes me nervous….it makes me think that people would like to regulate speech in some way. The First Amendment isn’t just protecting happy speech, or speech that we agree with. I would argue that it most emphatically protects angry and rude speech. Think about the context of our nation’s founding; revolutionaries who lose are just traitors. “We” won, so we wrote the history on the founding of America. And several rights in our Constitution reflect a perspective that values dissent as part of a healthy democracy.
At the very least, I think many people look at social media and reject it as the province of blowhards and reactionaries on both sides of the political aisle. But I look at the cacophony online and think, Thank God. Now we can have a dialogue, because all people now have a platform. The powers that be no longer dictate the entire agenda. We can all be heard.
It’s not pretty to see how angry many people are today….but I assure you, many of them were before. We just didn’t know it.
To me, social media provides such valuable insight into the minds of people who are very different from me. It’s not my job to change their minds; it’s my job to understand them. So I say, thank goodness for the angry people on social media. Thanks for speaking up. Let’s talk.