The question is do you?
Ask Jeeves was one of the things I was thankful for in the early aughts of the Internet. I asked away and it gave answers I needed to write my term paper; it was the Google of the 90s. It still exists by the way, just in case you were wondering. Around the same time came mIRC, where people can chat—not so anonymously with their school crush, which is what my friends and I did—share and just connect with each other.
The world wide web seemed like a safe-ish place back then; convenient but uncomplicated and relatively quiet. Today, there are over 3 billion people online (originally estimated by the International Telecommunication Union in 2015) that create, consume and share all kinds content. At present, it only takes seconds to find answers to pretty much any query, meet people from thousands of miles away or share your work, whether a piece of art or music, with the rest of the world. But as much as I love the present and the internet, there are things that make it dark, scary and dangerous.
That thing is us.
People of power and influence have thrown shade at, gone full tilt or publicly feuded with each other (read: Azealia Banks to Nicki Minaj, “chicken of the sea”); the same people have left social media because of so much hate and bullying (see: Millie Bobbie Brown leaves Twitter). Meanwhile regular people love, hate, criticize, scorn everyone and everything else, and end up hurt or hurting themselves as a result.
This is what the world wide web looks like today. So much noise, so much negativity, so much hate.
Free Speech Cries The People
While everyone is entitled to their own beliefs and opinions per Article III, Section 4 of the Philippine Constitution, or The First Amendment if you live stateside, the law on free speech seems to have gotten lost in translation here and in other parts of the world.
“No law shall be passed abridging the freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances,” Article lll, Section 4 of the PH Constitution
The cocoon of online anonymity and perhaps distance have caused many to behave in ways they wouldn’t in real life, like say hurtful things to people or brands on social media.
“Freedom of speech, of expression” doesn’t mean we have the right to to say whatever we want, whenever we want, to whomever we want especially if such expression incites hatred, violence or participation in illegal activity.
Hate Speech, Bullying And Just Plain Negativity
When someone or a group of people attack another based on gender, race, sexual orientation, religion, disability, etc., etc., etc., it becomes hate speech. Meanwhile, when the internet sends you messages of intimidating or threatening nature, that’s bullying. When you call out someone for being “so ugly!!” you tread the line between hate or bullying and negativity, which by definition is the expression of criticism of or pessimism about something.
All common knowledge and yet it doesn’t prevent us from thinking or acting otherwise.
Why Do We Do It
The reasons vary, but it seems our person online is bolder, braver and sometimes a bit brash. Online, we are suddenly capable of speaking our truth or calling out other people. Online, we turn into different characters; we compare, we get jealous, we criticize and we get angry. Online, we become dead set on being heard or proving that we’re right.
Is Social Media The Problem?
Yes and no.
Yes because the decision to remove or keep a post is based purely on algorithms, which can sometimes be problematic. The problem? Inconsistency. The laws and regulations built do not always ensure equal treatment to everyone, according to Fatima Al Mahmoud of Medium. For instance, people are able to live stream horrific crimes and post distasteful images of naked women but Rose McGowan gets shut down for calling out Harvey Weinstein. Perhaps Al Mahmoud is right, “social media companies should announce themselves as media companies… so they are no longer subject to dysfunctional regulations, but media law and regulations instead.”
No because social media is a platform, not a tyrant that tells people what to share or how to react. We are still in control of what goes out into cyberspace.
If You Can’t Take The Heat…
You can always opt out of social media. But then again, 71% of the world lives on social—even my son’s school does updates on a closed Facebook group—so that doesn’t seem like a viable option. Switching off the comments section or deleting hurtful remarks seems to work for some (read: Arci Munoz disables comments on Instagram). But does it stop the hate that plagues social media? Not always.
At Wonder, we have made it our goal to initiate conversation on topics that matter to men and women here and everywhere. We believe in free speech and fresh perspectives, and encourage more of it. But hate speech, bullying and negativity are things we do not tolerate.
The question is do you?
People shouldn’t. We all have the opportunity to respond to bigotry and educate others who use hate speech, but sometimes the best way to combat toxicity online is to just not have it.
Art Alexandra Lara
Image via capetownetc.com