Transformations often occur without any grand plan. Worlds change, events come and go, and chance plays its hand. Leaps forward in technology have give us a level of interconnection that few imagined only a decade or so ago. But there it is, social media is a part of our landscape like it or not. And its not going away.
Having participated in the debate about Brexit for the last couple of years certain thing become evident. There not all negative but the trend is a dangerous one.
The “liberal” hope for technologies like the INTERNET has always been that communication would give us a greater understanding of each other. The benefits for education are huge. From that a well of good would bring people together rather than push them apart. Like the benefits of travel. The more we know about our neighbours the more we would find common cause. This is true but there’s a flip side too.
Whereas face-to-face lots of social norms come into play, in the electronic cloud this is not so much so. Rudeness and vulgarity are still not acceptable in public. Stupidity is shunned when met in the flesh. Bigotry is questioned.
A side effect of all the technology we have accumulated is that it requires so little of us. Immediacy and proliferation means throw away comment and clicks of approval or disapproval costs nothing. In the worst cases people can hunker down in isolated corners and bombard the world with their prejudices and narrow-mindedness.
In politics, the fences surrounding camps are strengthened. Impenetrable walls are erected to preserve cherished beliefs. Although some of this is not new it does make it more difficult to cross boundaries and explore original ideas.
Ironic that these liberating technologies bring out the most illiberal instincts. To throw in a solution would be a step too far. The road of travel is a dangerous one but somehow, we must learn to behave differently. It’s a continuous learning.
In addition, having said that, policing plays its part. Means are needed to put a cost on bad behaviour. Persistent trolls and campaigns that dive to the depths of vulgarity should be under pressure. Free speech is not freedom to say anything.