Has social media empowered incivility in our culture, or has it simply stripped bare what always has been there?
Is there something about social media that acts like a hormone to ignite our lizard brains?
Does it cause us to reflexively put up our verbal dukes in fight mode? It’s very convenient, after all, in the safe harbor of social media, to instantly go from fight to flight. We just close the page and we’re gone.
I know I do that. I’ll post a comment in response to somebody else, then I’ll go away. Lately, I have no interest in going back to read the other person’s return volley. Why bother? I’m not going to change their mind, and vice versa. Therein lies the problem.
We are so compelled to voice our opinion—larded with heaping dollops of arrogance and attitude—that we don’t allow room for entertaining the other side of our position. Takes too much work. It may show us to be vulnerable. Worse, it may cause us to question our beliefs.
Why are we taking time to advertise our opinions anyway? Because in that moment, we have nothing better to do. We distract ourselves by turning to social media, which then aggravates us. Makes sense.
Besides, we can’t let that other guy think his position is correct. We need to school them, even when it’s a topic on which we ourselves are unschooled. We’d rather parrot somebody else’s opinion or statement than commit to the rigors of research.
When we post on social media, especially when politics is the topic, we basically have two choices: Elevate the conversation through thoughtful opinion—or escalate the emotional fisticuffs through resentment and rancor and attacks on each other.
Social media brings out the lazy in most of us, me included. Although I’m slowing down my social media activity—especially when it comes to expressing animus toward points of view with which I disagree—I still will, on occasion, react to a post or a comment that riles me. I smugly bang on the keyboard to let the person on the other end know they are on the wrong side of whatever issue we’re crossing swords over.
But they’re not wrong, of course, and I’m not right. We just see the same issue or situation from opposing angles. There may be a way to reach common ground, but that’s not a very satisfying admission for anyone to make these days. Compromise?! Don’t curse at me, please.
What I am not fond of doing on social media is calling people names. Oh, I can be as sarcastic as the next person, but I’m too old for name-calling. Nobody I’m willing to engage with deserves to be tarred as a something-tard or a turd.
Yes, grown-ups say stuff like that on social media. It’s like we never left the schoolyard.
Formulating a coherent argument strains the brain. Name-calling, by contrast, is child’s play—literally. If I’m tempted to call someone a puerile name, I have come to the realization it’s better to ignore them altogether.
As long as I’m accepting my addiction to social media, my antidote lately is to enter a comment and then delete it before posting. It’s my own five-second rule: I type the obnoxious comment, then decide in the next few moments if I really want my name to be associated with what I just wrote. Maybe just typing it is the cure for whatever ails me.
Our political positions pulsate to the beat of our heart, while our head falls asleep. Passion can be a good thing, but it also is prone to produce noise pollution. A lot of cheesy words are chewed on, but not a lot of nourishment is served.
Why is it so hard for us to become more analytical and measured in our political discourse? Why can’t we learn to look less to our heart and more to our head? It’s there that we are most apt to discover the rich, but rare, resources of nuance and self-doubt. Imagine if we were as adept at humility as we are at haranguing each other.
Not everybody slings mud, of course. Enough people play the provocateur, though, to keep away the smartest among us—those who abstain altogether from social media. I wish I was among them because I envy them.
Bruce “The Blog” Apar promotes local businesses, organizations, events and people through public relations agency APAR PR. He also is an actor, a community volunteer, and a contributor to several periodicals. Follow him as Bruce The Blog on social media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 914-275-6887.