Social Media: The New Frontier

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Recently news reports have had me acting out of turn. For the first time, I did the opposite of what I have always done when scrolling through my social media feed. Instead of passing by shared posts and comments that have had me internally voicing thoughts such as “that’s not exactly true/correct”, or even “that’s repugnantly stupid”; instead of this, I stopped and I entered the fracas. I waded into the back hole consisting of keyboard warriors, trolls, and the odd grandparent who took a wrong turn. I did this twice.
I must confess it was a rush. I felt like I was finally empowering myself to have my voice heard.

It might not be hard to guess which two recent events have had this affect on me, but it was the sentencing and discourse surrounding the convicted rapist Brock Turner (aka The Stanford Rapist), and the mass shooting in Orlando. These events alone are disturbing and traumatic, and lead to complex questions about how we, as a society, combat individuals who undertake acts of violence against others. Don’t get me wrong, Turner isn’t a terrorist, and the shooter, Omar Mateen, isn’t a rapist; their acts of violence are entirely different types. However they do represent segments of society who hold views that can lead to violence.

As a society we continue to struggle to combat this.

Whilst I don’t have the solution, I do have a proposal. We often cry out, it’s not all men, and it’s not all Muslims. It truly isn’t, but scroll through any public social media post and the voice of reason is hard to see let alone hear. If in reality we have the power of the majority, we should try to influence this throughout all realms, including the virtual.

To my close friends and family, those who know me well, it might be a surprise that I avoid nearly all topics that I study that is discussed via social media. I am an undergraduate International Politics major focusing on war and genocide, yet I don’t discuss politics, nor conflict. I hold a diploma in Human Rights Theory, yet online I avoid discussion of ethics and morality. I now have a Master’s in International Development Practice (long explanation short; think of the work that the U.N. and organizations like Save the Children and World Vision do, it’s like community development, but with a focus on the level of international engagement and with developing countries and communities) with a commitment to work with the purpose of alleviating poverty and inequality, yet I avoid topics such as the budget cut for Australian Aid.

I find myself questioning why. Recently the only realms you would find evidence of my own opinion, which I would put forth as relatively reasoned and informed, is on forums such as my Masters coursework page and this blog. I realized it’s because

1. I don’t want to be viewed as contentious, a ‘know-it-all’, and dare I say it, a bitch.
2. Challenging people to an open debate or discussion often leads to nowhere, and is usually reductive in reason and contradictory in values. Most of all, it feels as though people just want to be heard but don’t also want to listen.
3. I don’t wish to be overly ‘politically correct’ and have those I am openly disagreeing with feel that as a result they should not voice their opinions. I was raised to believe that it takes all types to make the world go round.

So I begin to wonder, is it that the more socially moderate we become, we also become quieter? Perhaps we believe so much in personal freedoms and expressions of opinions that we hesitate to challenge ideas, be they obscure, offensive, or even normative? We have become more uninvolved in the checks and balances of government and societal norms, allowing media and even the vacuum of social media to direct our information, which becomes regurgitated and repetitive.

As development practitioners, I believe it is part of our responsibility to wade into the fracas and challenge those voices that we would usually turn away from, and put forth the values of equality, respect and security for and of others, which we have dedicated our education and careers to help achieve.

So I appeal, it’s not just the forums and conferences to discuss and agree to some terms of peace or acknowledge a need for action where we should gather and discuss. We should also be speaking outside of our bubbles with those that surround us virtually and physically. With the friend who shares a Facebook post that innocuously supports a reductive rationale of terrorism and further alienates other community members, or the comment that places blame on a rape victim for being intoxicated. What we so eagerly strive to achieve through the Sustainable Development Goals; fighting hunger, alleviating poverty, overcoming inequality. This is not just achieved by our elected or unelected representatives. It is also achieved by each and everyone of us, by discussing and challenging in an open manner the ideas and morals held between us that differ and so that, most importantly, we may understand each other.

Beyond this, I believe we all hold this responsibility. All of our voices are worthy and should be heard; though we also need to be prepared to not just hear others, but to also listen.

The events of the past week, the evidence of a rape culture which continues to persist within our societies, and the exclusive dichotomy of Islam following Orlando that paints a reductive picture of good and evil. These are not singular events, but are shared by themes of power and inequality. The most damaging voices in these events though are not the extreme views, or those that are misinformed; they are the moderate voices that exist in the majority that avoid the social media fracas. People do not often mean harm by the opinions they voice, be it those who believe Islam is a violent religion, or that some should take responsibility to prevent rape, and more. However, unchallenged, we as a society will not be able to move forward together. The more we leave behind; the more their voices will demand to be heard. So, we need to talk.

I admire anyone who bears such confidence to put forth their values and ideas on social media. I have truly lacked this.

It does take all types to make the world go round. So I challenge everyone, let’s have a chat.