I put things on the internet for a living. I spend my days reading things, writing things and talking about social issues with people “on the line.” But over the past year or so, I’ve noticed a really dramatic shift in the kinds of conversations that I’m seeing, and the way people are treating each other online. A negative one.
To be honest, the internet has never really been a perfect place to voice opinions without copping a bit of flack. It seems lots of people find it much easier to confidently voice an opinion online without having to look another person in the eyeball and tell them in their humble opinion they think they’re a complete jerk and should be sacked for thinking such silly garbage. But conversations have turned from debates on hot issues, to attacking the person behind the post.
If someone sees you’ve commented on something with a differing opinion to their own, in my experience one can now expect that people are willing to trawl through your social media accounts to find things they don’t like about you, and use them against you to win online arguments.
Make a comment on an online news article about whether negative gearing should be abolished to help first time home buyers get into the market? Get ready to have people comment on that Halloween picture where you dressed up as “man who just left the shower” calling you and your friends nasty things. At least in my experience anyway.
It’s particularly upsetting to me, not because I am fragile and I want everyone to like me, but because the potential for the internet to do good is absolutely massive!
Never before have human beings been so connected. It’s never been easier to communicate and share stories with people from the other side of the world. A high school student in Longreach who absolutely loves playing the tuba can now connect with one of the few other tuba enthusiasts in the country. Or they can share their story on YouTube about what it’s like to grow up with an invisible disability to people across the country that have no idea what that’s like. The internet connects us and helps people build social capital. The internet is a wonderful thing for people who have previously felt really isolated who can now easily connect with others like them and create a community. Yet some people take this opportunity and make it a place of anger. So why the hate?
My theory is it that it comes back to our political bubbles. Most people know this by now, but I’m going to cover it anyway. Your social media accounts deliberately filter through news and posts that your friends share to make sure you see things you’re more likely to like, read, or comment on. It’s great for getting content curated specifically for you. For most of us, we’re more likely to engage with things we already agree with. However, it also means there’s a tendency for people to think all of the things in their newsfeeds is the same as what everyone is getting. And, in turn, their worldview is everyone’s worldview. But there are ways to burst our social media bubbles.
Look, this is all still just my theory…. But maybe our social media bubbles, which reinforce our existing views, increase our fears of the “other.” We read and watch so many pieces of media that we already agree with, that when we do see something we disagree with online, it’s really easy to think on some level that there’s something wrong with that person. Or that they’re just dumb. Or we act out because it challenges our way of thinking. We need to start being really intentional about breaking our social media bubbles, or the consequences could be pretty big.
And this brings me to some good news. I’ve spoken about these peeps before — Share Some Good is a great example of people working to actively combat this. If you haven’t heard of Share Some Good yet, it’s a campaign put together by YouTube, VICE and us! It’s been put together to inspire and equip content creators with the skills and know-how to make videos that treat our differences as a positive to be embraced. If you’re keen, you can subscribe to the channel here.
In a digital world that I have found to be pretty negative of late, I’m personally quite excited. Who knows, maybe this project will be the catalyst for people to start commenting on photos of my “man leaving shower” costume with the clapping emojis that pièce de résistance of Halloween 2016 deserves.