In light of all of the online comments I’ve seen recently regarding the upcoming presidential elections, what to do with refugees, and Target bathrooms, I’ve been meditating a lot on the sense of power and anonymity that accompanies an “online presence.” Studies show that people are more outspoken from behind the keyboard and that, naturally, we “curate” our images as they appear on social media (which may be attributed to an increase in depression among the population), but at what point does our online self and our actual self become one? When and where do those lines blur?
So far, this year is proving to be a tumultuous one (and not just because we lost Prince), but this has provided many an opportunity for people you know and love to post about their feelings on the internet. And yeah, that’s what the internet is for, right? We each own our own little soapbox built of Facebook likes and then use that real estate to promote our cause, our presidential candidate, our beliefs. It’s the platform of our generation.
But the problem with that is that people often don’t consider the real life consequences of their online behavior. In some ways we do–studies show that you’re less likely to “unfriend” someone for fear of what that will do to your #reallife relationship–but more often than not, we allow the power of being disassociated physically from our online selves to entice us to speak to each other in a way that we would never actually dare in a face-to-face situation.
Need an example? Here, men read the horrible and degrading messages sent to female sports writers as a part of the #MoreThanMean campaign. And here are 6 unforgettable stories of cyber-bulling that have lead to tragic results. Need I say more?
What concerns me is not just the lack of restraint shown on the internet, but the lack of realization when it comes to accountability and, even more so, potential for positive impact.
Yes, these lines are blurred. Yes, when you post something about Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump or for-or-against Target’s bathroom policy, you alienate people in real life. Now, one might say “Good–I don’t need those backward rednecks (and/or) bleeding liberals in my life anyway!” but by isolating yourself from people who do not believe the same thing as you, you are not only creating an echo chamber of people who look/think/act like you but are also contributing to the division in both our nation and our world.
Read that again: You are contributing. You are playing an active role.
The internet is not a passive environment. It’s one of the most outspoken places in the world, where people of all types can find affirmation and acceptance. But it’s dangerous for us to cluster together against “the enemy.” You do nothing for your own development by filtering out people who are different from you. And mark my words, people who disagree with you don’t just disappear because you don’t engage with them. Instead, they cluster together and put on their own armor.
The world we’re living in is as divisive as ever, but it seems like the internet is facilitating in a greater way than it ever has before. So I’m asking–no, I’m begging–everyone to consider the following:
Please do not say anything online you wouldn’t say in real life.
Bullying in any form is unacceptable, but online bullying is the worst because it has real life implications. We are responsible for being who we are, both in person and behind the keyboard. It’s our social responsibility to be as authentic as possible.
Please approach disagreement with calm discourse and an open mind.
You might be surprised to learn where someone else is coming from! Plus, no one’s mind has ever been changed by force. It’s okay to want to further your cause or promote your beliefs, but please be open to people who feel differently than you. Find out why. Figure out what drives them to see things the way they do or what experiences they’ve had. Neither of you may change your minds, but you might come away with a little more clarity and compassion for “the other side.”
And most importantly…
Use your platform for positivity.
We have a unique opportunity to spread good news, joy, and love to the rest of the world that has never, ever been afforded to us before. We are connected. We bleed for those in crisis. We GoFundMe those in need or those who have good ideas. We can be a positive light, as long as we don’t get bogged down by darkness.
With love! Kaleigh