“People don’t often say what they think but rather what they think is permissible.”
― Michael Rectenwald, Springtime for Snowflakes: Social Justice and Its Postmodern Parentage
“In general, opinions contrary to those commonly received can only obtain a hearing by studied moderation of language, and the most cautious avoidance of unnecessary offence, from which they hardly ever deviate even in a slight degree without losing ground: while unmeasured vituperation employed on the side of the prevailing opinion, really does deter people from professing contrary opinions, and from listening to those who profess them.”
― John Stuart Mill, On Liberty
There was a time, not that far a distance past, where we thought social media such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Smartchat et el were the way of the future, a form of media that would give us all a voice, allow us an opinion on myriad subjects, give us new, fertile ground for debate. Somewhere along the line, that freedom became twisted into silence!
It started simply enough, with memes seeming to do endless loops…for years! Then we had the video clips, often displaying graphic acts of deplorable violence, which also did the rounds regularly, though, oh course, often to a new audience who displayed their abject horror, and commented so, until being told “oh…that old chestnut again! Been doing the rounds for yonks!”. Then, of course, there was all the shit that was just made up, to elicit a response. It was about this time that many of us started to evaluate just how valid and pertinent this new media was. Many users canned the apps at that stage, though a good many more, like me, dithered to leave, due to the amount of contact we had with friends on social media. With the tyranny of distance, it was often the sole point of contact we had.
As a writer, I love the medium for the opportunity it gives me to have an individual voice, to share an opinion, to be, if I choose, controversial, to go against the grain, or step outside the square. My opinions lean left, and no apology is made for that. I believe in social justice, a fair judging for all (provided no harm is perpetrated on others), equality, the separation of church and state (I’m a professed Atheist, but with a tendency towards Buddhism), a fair deal for all through good government, unbiased charities, and the inherent good nature of the majority of people. However, social media is slowly silencing many of my beliefs, forcing me to hold back when I encounter unfairness, prejudice, and hate-speech. It’s turning me into someone I don’t like!
The rot started to set in a few years back! In the first instance, I reposted a meme. The meme held a very pertinent message – lost on me, this far down the line – and had something to do with American Indians, and had the face of one on it. Within minutes, a vehement, aggressive comment was received back from someone on my friends list, stating that it had nothing to do with Indians, that I was being racist, and demanded that I remove it immediately! I remember exactly how I felt when I read the tirade – shocked at the aggression, embarrassed (to the point where I blushed, despite being on my own), belittled, yet furious that someone would dare accuse me of being a racist! But, I was so taken aback by surprise that I made the wrong decision! Instead of replying “No, I won’t”, and sticking to my guns…I deleted it! I remember only too well how angry I felt with myself for days after that, that I’d allowed myself to be bullied by someone I knew. If by standing up for myself they unfriended me, would ai miss them? The trueful answer was…no! And let’s face it – ANY face that wasn’t white would have exhibited that response from THAT person, because they like to be seen as non-judgemental as far as other races go. The hypocrisy is lost on them! As for me? Well, let’s just say…don’t test me!
In the second instance, I liked a Facebook page called Barebackers. My personal opinion on barebacking is that, as two mature, consenting adults, we have every right to make any decisions pertaining to having sex together, ourselves. This particular page never sent out offensive posts, nor did they promote the use of barebacking in posts, though they did send out some quite amusing gay memes. I quite regularly reposted their memes, without any judgement at all…until one point in time! There always has to be one! This particular “friend”…who I didn’t know personally, but was only friended because we had both gone to “Mandate” in Melbourne in the 80s, and had similar memories…took personal offence to the fact that I received posts from a Barebacking page. Not only did he take offence, he reported the page to Facebook, then had the hide to inform me of that fact, along with a tirade about his displeasure. I knew this person had issues from other posts he made, but this was going to far! Not only had he reported a page purely because of its name, despite the inoffensive posts, but was, in effect, dictating to me what I could – or could not – look at, or practise! I wasn’t silent this time! Not only a long, angry comment on him minding his own business, and not inflicting his personal beliefs on others…but I immediately unfriendly him! Goodbye, and good riddance! Facebook did – rightly – absolutely nothing about the page! He has sent me friends requests in the intervening years, but to no avail. Such a betrayal of friendship is unforgivable.
In the third instance, I was walking my dogs one morning in Glebe, and noticed some cottages in one of the local streets that had a frontage no wider than 6-8 feet, with these tiny old houses from another era on them. When I got home, I made an innocuous post about my observation, that the frontages and houses were so narrow that they had to be claustrophobic to live in. That was it! An observation! An abusive comment came back…this time from someone I knew…regarding how first world my opinion was, that there were people in the world who would be more than happy to live in such places etc etc. Again, a reply went back that I had not been making a social statement about the houses, but purely an opinion about them based on what I saw. He unfriendly me this time. Truthfully, I laughed this one off – as did others – as he had a reputation for being self-opinionated, and commenting just to provoke argument! But a point was made…we were not supposed to comment negatively on anything, or comment contrary to commonly held opinions, or be, in any way, an individual with an opinion. The realisation that social media was not a fair-minded or democratic place to be came into being. It changed how I dealt with things, with what I commented on, with how I interacted with people, even those I knew!
Many people take social media way too seriously, and many…too many…post more than they should! It shouldn’t be a medium to discuss personal arguments, obscure comments with no referencing point, and anything about yourself that is a little too personal. Another person on my friends list,- who was there for no other reason that he was friends with others I knew – made a rather heart-wrenching post about himself, perhaps exposing more vulnerability than is healthy! There are times where you should just seek medical help, not rely on social media to diagnose mental or physical problems! Anyway, I was quite touched by his vulnerability, “Liked” the post to acknowledge that I’d read it, then commented sympathetically, and non-judgementally. *Ding* goes Facebook Messenger minutes later. A message from said person! “Gee, thanks for liking my current situation, you fucking arsehole. I hope you have a life of fucking misery. You deserve it. You shallow arsehole”. I was incredulous. I tried a calming response “That’s a bit unfair. A like is a recognition of having read something. I actually empathise with you, and have commented likewise. I’m sorry that you took an actual acknowledgement as an insult!”. I waited…and waited. No response! I was getting a bit cranky by now that he had been so rude, so fired off another response “It seems it was a bit much to expect an apology for an abusive message…to someone you don’t even know! I’ll save you the trouble of doing the obvious”. He then came back with “I’m not apologising. You took pleasure in my suffering”. By now, all empathy and niceness had gone out the window “You’re obviously a self indulgent brat! Goodbye”, and I hit *Block* before he could respond. You just can’t win with some people. Perhaps not surprisingly, I don’t respond to these sorts of posts anymore, no matter how I feel.
So I started – and still do – self-censoring. My posts are pretty bland, and uncontroversial. I often find myself about to comment on a post, then deciding…no! It will only cause an argument! Or worse still…*name* will see the comment, and take it personally! Or *name* will see the comment, and take it the wrong way! So I delete what I was starting to type. It seems as though if I can’t be 100% positive and light-hearted…I just don’t comment! It has also made me realise that I am often way too liberal in maintaining friendships on social media. Some terrible things float through my Facebook feed these days, by people I’ve known for a long time., and who have the ability to shock me with their posts. Prejudice, misogyny, intolerance! There are times when I’m stunned by just how blatant people are on social media…and feel no shame! I don’t “get” how people from a community that is prejudiced against by so many, for so long, can, in turn, be prejudiced against others! It makes no sense.
Like many, it’s not about making a comment, or instigating debate! It’s that fair debate doesn’t happen anymore. We all maintain individual friends lists, and quite often there is no cross-over with friends. So you will comment on a friends post…perhaps not agreeing with their opinion…and the next thing you know, someone who you don’t even know is aggressively throwing in their two cents worth. If you then reply to them, it just gets more aggressive, and you end up just letting it lie because it’s getting out-of-hand!. The other annoying thing is people who take comments off in totally different directions to what the post is about! FFS…stick to the point!
So is social media stifling our individual opinions, causing us to self-censor, to reel in our own opinions even if they are contradictory? Yes, it is! We are even careful about how we use humour now, as it is often taken out of context! Social media has brought out our blandness, forcing us into an unreal world of niceness, and never ending positivity. It has made children out of adults. It is, like the daily news, dumbing us down!
As an intelligent, reasoning adult, I keep telling myself to just quit it. I stopped using Twitter because it is just a nasty bitchfest. I’m moving myself more to Instagram these days, as with a world-wide audience of followers, it tends to not be so judgemental and negative. As stated earlier, I’m loathe to quit Facebook due to my friends there, but having said that, those who actually like or comment on my posts is minimal in number, so maybe I need to reassess my priorities. Maybe I just need to be brutal. Maybe the qualifying question that needs to be asked is…
Are you suffocating my voice!
Tim Alderman ©️2018.