Social media is a marvellous place, when I first started my account my profile picture was of a wrestler named Triple H (I assume that was his ring name). My reasoning for this was two fold, firstly as a young teenager I saw the merit in not rushing to upload hundreds of pictures of myself to a public platform. Secondly, a tiny part of me hoped that you would mistake this muscular, 8 pack wielding, monster of a man for 13 year old me. I’ll leave you to decide which of these I achieved.
Social media gives us the ability to connect with people all over the world, I maintain friendships in many different countries as a result of my social media presence. In this time of lockdown it gives us the opportunity to connect to people who we are unable to see as regularly as we would like. It also gives us a layer of security. “What do you mean by security?” I hear you cry “Social media is riddled with traps for us to fall in”. I mean in expressing ourselves. It gives us the ability to express an opinion, no matter how unfounded. It allows us to share cherry picked articles that back up our opinions. Often, there will be a small group of people who agree with us, they will show their agreeance with a small red heart or blue thumbs up. We feel validated. Our opinion has been aired, peer reviewed and is now a given fact.
Things don’t always go as swimmingly as that, on occasion, in the distance, we will hear keys furiously tapping. The colour will drain from our face as we see the 3 dots appear indicating someone is typing, a keyboard warrior is about to attack. Our bonified opinion is under siege, someone, who we thought was a friend, has the audacity to disagree with a video shared that has over 7 likes. What will ensue is a short exchange of point and counter point as you furiously try to defend your opinion and they furiously try to call your opinions into question, sometimes using inconvenient things such as facts or statistics.
I have to admit I often find myself on the side of the ‘keyboard warrior’ I’ll happily call out opinions on social media, especially those that have the potential to stir up hate. The rise of BLM and increased coverage of issues of racial inequality has meant that these past few months have been prime pickings for me, so many people, connected to me on social media, share such unhelpful and spurious claims about the fight for racial equality. Often prefixed with “I’m not racist but”. I’ve challenged a lot of these opinions and all of these interactions have usually ended the same way, I’ve been blocked, on social media. I’m cast into an abyss where I am no longer able to see their poorly researched claims, and even their profile picture is just a pixelated shell of it’s former self.
Change the context here, if this was at a social gathering, perhaps a BBQ, I have entered into a discussion with someone, they have proclaimed their opinion. I then counter this with my own point of view, they reply, I reply. Eventually they get so sick of me that they leave the party, and spend the next week ensuring that any semblance of the friendship we once had has been destroyed. I think it would be wrong to claim that this doesn’t affect me, of course it does, we all want to be liked, so when somebody goes to these extremes I do feel a little hurt. I know that I am mostly to blame for this happening, but it’s not always as simple as that..
In all interactions with people, be they friends, family or strangers, I have two responsibilities. My first responsibility is to ensure that what I am saying is, true, relevant and helpful. I need to make sure that if I am to engage in a discussion, what I am saying is factual, nobody wins if I just make statistics up and make spurious claims. I also need to ensure it is relevant to the context, and it is helpful, there is no need for me to draw out peoples flaws just for the purpose of undermining them.
My second responsibility is to moderate how I say what I’m saying. Now, I am fully aware that this is something I am working on. I need to make sure that I communicate my opinion in a way that is not rude, does not meaninglessly attack the character of the person I am engaging with and is conducive to explaining my point of view. I hasten to reiterate, this is something I am working on and am not quite perfect at yet.
In the past I have been caught out, sharing posts that I hadn’t fact checked, sharing statistics that I had heard but not verified myself. It stings, you remember those moments, you are so vehemently certain of your point of view, only for it to be undermined by the truth, damn. This has forced me to educate myself, forced me to take a breath before flying into quoting statistics or sharing articles. People don’t often block you for sharing fake news (POTUS probably would). The block often comes when people perceive that I am not abiding by the second responsibility. It usually follows a few altercations in the comments section, where my tone is sometimes called into question. I have been called aggressive, amongst other things.
My downfall is I’m passionate, maybe that’s not a downfall. When I see injustices that affect people I know and love, the fire inside me burns even brighter. I’ll be the first to admit that my passion leaks out in my comments, it is often then taken as aggression. I know I am in charge of moderating how I say what I say, I would also argue that passion for fighting injustice is not a cardinal sin. It is my passion that fuels my responses, I know that is something that some people find distasteful.
This is why I get blocked. I interpret this blocking as the following: “If only you could calm down and be a little more civilised we can remain friends”
Unfortunately, that doesn’t fly with me, I know I am not the only person who is enraged by racism, my question is “Why is my passion (or anger) the only thing that offends you?”.
As I said earlier, I am mostly to blame for these blockings, but they almost always follow me standing against articles or posts that look to sow seeds of doubt in the fight for equality. So if standing up for equality means I get blocked then I can guarantee I will be blocked by more people in the future, and I am absolutely fine with that.