When it comes to the level of incivility in our public discourse, we shouldn’t blame people who wrote something years ago now declared egregious by the self-declared consciences of society, or activists who ramp up heated emotions to the point of violent action, or the sanctimonious media who look down on all of us and dictate how we should look at any event they decide worthy of coverage, or even the President of the United States.
We should examine those who create the means of communication through their shortsighted visions, motivated by delusions of grandeur and monetary reward before thinking-through the ramifications on their potential consumers and society as a whole.
If those who created the social media platforms used widely from the early 2000’s through today had given just a little thought on how their websites would impact our methods of talking to each other, things today could’ve been a whole lot different. When the technology of cloning was being discussed, scientists and ethicists debated for years, not whether it could be done but should it.
For example, immature, forward thinking-challenged Harvard students created what we now call Facebook (Facemash.com) as a means of ranking the physical attributes of campus women. Odds are the males doing the ranking did so under the protection of cowardly anonymity.
From MySpace through YouTube through Facebook through Twitter, if users were required to provide their verified real name, verified age, most recent portrait and city location to initially “sign up”, just imagine how conversations would be conducted today as the abused shield of anonymity would not be a factor.
Because their identity would be a public and could be scrutinized by family members, friends, employers, and law enforcement if necessary, a mob of the anonymous would not exist to pressure anyone to say or take back anything they didn’t want to do. In far too many instances today, a person who says something on Facebook or Twitter is inundated with tens of thousands of virulent responses from “people” who may or may not have piled on if their friends and family (who may not agree with their take) could see not only their message but how they chose to respond.
Would most parents object to a son or daughter telling someone they didn’t know to go kill themself? Probably.
Would an employer have a problem with an employee posting an obscenity to a local politician who could directly and adversely affect their business? Probably.
But when someone can say some of the most vile things to another person that they’d never have the guts to say to their face, it emboldens the coward, emboldens the mob mentality, and the negative results are documented.
When people using aliases can now do criminal activities to others and/or their property and can broadcast it all live purely for the sake of hundreds of thousands of “likes”, it dehumanizes those they victimize and inspires the copycats as well as those who wish to take things further.
Unfortunately, the toothpaste is out of the tube. The arrogant bully can create any name not his or her, any graphic representation not of their true likeness, and can jump right in and ramp up any issue they want at any person they wish and make that person act and think the way they want them to. Should that person succumb to the demands of the empowered anonymous, the cowards are again emboldened to look for the next they wish to victimize. If it results in apologies, that becomes the next “trending” success narrative. If it results in a suicide, retrospection and apologizes are optional. If it results in violence, those who cheered events on can now pivot and pile on to whichever side convenient to their narcissism.
We will not have a return to a semblance of civility in society until social media realizes their platforms are THE major contributing factor and a total reboot is past due.
Until the cowardly anonymous are disarmed and thus held responsible for what they post on all platforms, we will see people’s careers destroyed, businesses impacted, and violent responses on the uptick. Those who hide behind false names will continue to tell us all how THEY want us to think and express ourselves or else or face a merciless horde.
Just a couple short generations ago, we didn’t experience the incivility seen today because we were social media. We didn’t have the luxury of being able to tell everyone we knew, and hundreds more we’ve never met face-to-face, something negative about someone we knew or never met. Speech required introspection. We had to know if it was something we really wanted to say to someone’s face and if we really wanted it known that it was said.
Today, throw all that out the window. Comments are now impulsive, at times not well thought out if at all, and can be issued by people who can’t be personally identified and held accountable. Showing their real cowardice, they can delete their posted attacks after the damage is done, free to move on to their next subjects.
Social media has empowered the gutless and when the weak can destroy the strong, we have a really fucked up mess to fix.