If something comes with a health warning we know it’s bad – right? So why do we say “don’t read the comments” instead of solving the problem. Something is rotten in our society, and we need to fix it. For some, it’s already too late. But that doesn’t mean we can’t turn the tide. Algorithms, social media, and clickbait have been carefully crafted to whip up anger, fear and hate.
And it’s not just comments. Your likes, favourites, reactions, saves and clicks all determine what you are served. With so much time spent on social media, it means these sites are shaping our world view. And I get it – from the publishers point of view, I totally understand it. But what does that say about us, those on the other side of fence.
There seems to be a disconnect between where we’re getting our information from, how reliable that information is, and our reaction to it. Imagine for one second that instead of reading an article about a person facing hardship you actually sat and listened to their story. Would you still react with venom to of the world’s most vulnerable. Do you think you could look a homeless family in the eyes and tell them their mother should have kept her legs shut. That they should be ashamed. They’re a waste of space. Just scroungers. Or what about a young woman who has been raped. That she deserved it for getting drunk. Her clothes were too tight. She was asking for it. She loved it. Could you look her in the eye and tell her you don’t believe her. She’s just making it up for attention.
What about a refugee who has fled more terror than we can ever imagine. Left their friends, family, and belongings behind. Been smuggled across countless miles to arrive at the land of a 1,000 welcomes only to be put in a glorified internment camp. Told they are at once lazy and here to sponge off the state while also robbing jobs. That they are murderers, thieves and rapists. To fuck off back to their own country we don’t want them here. How about the young person from the LGBTQIA+ community. Would you laugh in their face if someone came to you after being beaten on the streets. Would you demand they publicly display themselves or mutilate themselves for your satisfaction. So you can feel more comfortable categorising them as you see fit.
When we read alarming stories about those on the fringes of society our first instinct shouldn’t be contempt. It should be compassion. Empathy. Attempting to see what went wrong and how can we fix it; so that no other person has to face the same ordeal. News articles aren’t there to normalise issues, they are there to alert us to things that are newsworthy. Sometimes these stories are of amazing feats. People breaking barriers. Exploring the unknown. But often they are horror stories. Stark reminders that something has veered off course and we must set it right.They are signposts we can’t choose to ignore. As children we’re taught to see things from different perspectives. To be kind. So why have we forgotten this as adults? Why is it OK to viciously attack people online then go about our day as if nothing has happened? We all decry the prevalence of cyberbullying in schools. But what about the adults? It’s not 15 year olds leaving comments on news sites and press pieces.
We need to be smart and we need to be knowledgeable about what we are consuming from where – and our reaction to it. So why do we consume things online without question and without pause for thought. Oftentimes people comment on articles they haven’t even read. They’re merely commenting as to what they think the article will say or based on other comments. This is madness. But it’s also dangerous. It feeds into a mob mentality.
We need to stop this. First of all, we need to stop clicking and sharing, garbage articles on social media. Instead support quality journalism. Get in the habit of going to various news sites and reading from the source. Not just your Facebook feed. Broaden your reading habits. And think before you comment. Ask yourself why are you commenting. How would you feel if what you wrote was directed at you or a loved one? Is this merely an insult? A sweeping generalisation based on nothing? Totally unfounded, or perpetuating lies that have been debunked? Is what you’re about to say just plain wrong?
Ultimately, you should be asking yourself do you have enough information, or insight, to add something that will actually add value to the conversation. If not, then you might be best not to comment. Now you might say “well everyone is entitled to their opinion”. And yes, that’s true. Everyone can have an opinion. But that doesn’t mean that every opinion is valid, or created equally, or that every opinion should be given the same weight. I can have an opinion on many things, that doesn’t mean I know diddly squat about them. That doesn’t mean I should be listened to as carefully as an expert on the matter. An opinion is just that – an opinion. It doesn’t have to be based on fact. And it doesn’t get any more importance just because it’s coming from you.
This is not about silencing people on social media. Or shutting down conversations and limiting freedom of speech. Conversations are wonderful. Debate is fantastic. This about having a bit of cop on and acting like an adult. If your opinion is to berate single mothers, deride people who are going through hardships, laugh at the vulnerable and disenfranchised then perhaps you should reflect on where your opinions are coming from. Because while you might be angry for many reasons, they are not the cause of your problems.
In the interest of making the world a little better and brighter, we’ve kind off an initiative to make it even easier for people to support on another.