Curiously, despite the fact that social media is literally designed to connect people together, there are a great many divisive, prejudiced, sexist, racist, homophobic, anti-everything postings shared by people that obviously have friends who would be offended by such statements (not to mention the inherent cruelty of the statements themselves) without any regard for the feelings of others.
Lately, there have been two factions of people forming amongst those of us who aren’t sexist, racist, homophobic and anti-everything people; those who immediately block and/or “unfriend” people when they make inflammatory prejudiced posts and those who keep the people on their friends list so as to engage with them and attempt to alter their views.
I am of the first type; as soon as I see an ignorant, hateful post, I unfriend, unfollow, block or otherwise disconnect from that person. The reason I do this is very specific and pointed. I do understand that the idea behind the “keep them and engage” method is that one cannot educate and change people if you keep yourself in a bubble; an echo chamber of exclusively like-minded people, but there are some flaws in this approach. Prejudice is an inherently right-brained phenomenon; illogical, irrational, belief and emotion-based, so when a person with this, let’s say affliction is confronted by truth and facts and reality and the need for an end to their twisted philosophies, the tendency is to hold fast to the prejudice and even for it to grow. This being the case, it feels to me a waste of time, effort, life-force, joy, hope and sanity to attempt to redirect hateful people to a higher viewpoint. How often does that work? Ever? I don’t know. Maybe it works for some people, but it hasn’t ever worked for me. In my case all that resulted were higher blood pressure, headaches and an increased desire to disconnect from social media completely, which I did for several months last year. I completely shut down my original twitter and facebook accounts and gave up on social media.
In the long run, this became impractical as I really do have a desire to connect with friends, colleagues, readers and other like-minded people so I returned to the cyber world. Upon my return, I made the decision to change my own behavior in the dynamic. Apparently, my personality is not built for aggressive conflict; I don’t seek it, I don’t enjoy it, I don’t tolerate it well, so in order to keep my desire for social media (and lower my blood pressure) I had to approach dealing with oppositional and confrontational people and groups differently. Aggressive conflict of course, is distinctly different from constructive criticism, different styles and viewpoints, disagreements, etc. which are fine and sometimes necessary but rather, the conflicts become hateful and petty arguments and often descend into chaos.
My approach to things now is a conscious marginalization of the opposition. If you refuse to allow the ridiculous insanity to become something you live with, then it loses some of its power. The reason that the wrong people have power, that corporations have billions of dollars and prejudice has any type of platform is because these things are supported. If no one shops at the big evil W, then it loses all its power, money and influence; if people don’t elect the politicians that want to limit our rights, then they wouldn’t have the authority to do so, etc.
The more thinking people refuse to tolerate the ignorance that seems so prolific, the less power it will have. This is not turning a blind eye or refusing to see the truth; I’m not advocating abstaining from being aware of what goes on in the world. I am just saying that social media is a construct and as such only has the power we choose to give it. It is very important to make a clear statement of how you feel; what your position is on an issue so that you can show support to those suffering while at the same time condemning those who perpetuate injustice. It is important to be a positive addition to the struggle against injustice as opposed to contributing to the chaos.
To spend my life seeking confrontation in order to educate the perpetrators is nothing short of martyrdom which only hurts me in the long run. The perpetrators are not going to change and will not care about the people they’ve hurt. Perpetrators of any type must be isolated from society otherwise their poison spreads like a virus. The only way to isolate a perpetrator on social media is to limit their influence. Since we do not have control over anyone other than ourselves, the best action to limit their influence is to block them from influencing us. I would much rather know who the awful people are and remove them from my life than have them lurking quietly in the background.
The more people that refuse to tolerate the perpetrators, the less power they will have. Bullies have victims because the system supports the behavior. If enough people join together against the bully, their power is neutralized. Real world actions are what are needed to combat real world problems. Social media is merely an overflow of what goes on in the real world, not the world itself. To sacrifice oneself in a battle of wills, opinions and feelings on the internet while real people are being hurt and killed in the outside world is not a worthy use of an activist heart in my opinion. The zeitgeist of our era needn’t be argumentative frenzy but rather could be progressive social reform, if we consciously choose to move forward and marginalize the regressive, oppressive, depressive individuals that hold us all back.
The way I see it, social media time is better spent connecting with like-minded individuals as a predominantly enjoyable experience which enriches our lives instead of diminishing our happiness and also in order to build a network of progressive people who can then go out into the world and accomplish actual change. If we give ourselves a clear focus and a solid foundation from which to act rather than being worn down and scattered due to the harshness of others, then our real world actions are far more powerful and effective.