Sunday, June 26, 2016

Has Social Media & The Digital World Made Us Rude?

There's nothing like a political debate to bring out passion and opinions and the EU referendum has been no different. In the digital age, I've been advertised to by all the campaigns via Twitter, Facebook, leaflets through my door, doorstepping and a barrage of TV events and interviews. I've been party to the reasoning behind many a vote in both directions, from people I've never met in and in some cases I don't even know thanks to the 'friend of a friend' notifications that land on Facebook. We've had discussions in our office, our home and with visiting family members, but it seems to me that we've all of a sudden become terribly rude.

I choose not to share my opinions on politics and in particular I've kept my digital mouth shut about the EU referendum. That's my choice, it doesn't mean I don't have an opinion, that I don't care or that I haven't voted. It doesn't mean I think sharing your opinions is wrong either- there are plenty of people who feel very passionately about politics and debates of all kind and one of the joys of democracy and freedom of speech is being able to share those opinions and campaign for them. But when did being passionate about a cause become a license to berate people for not sharing their opinions, or shutting down an opposing opinion by merely stating you think they're a waste of oxygen and deleting their connection from your network?

Many of my face-to-face discussion about highly charged issues are heated and lively, but rarely are they so rude as to dismiss me all together because our opinions differ. Rarely has anyone use offensive name calling or shamed my opinion in front of a group of people with whom I'm not already in conversation. I have seen all of these things happen on Facebook & Twitter in the last 3 days  and I'm left wondering, has social media and the ability to convey our opinion in 140 characters, the accessibility of instant news and the opportunities we have to communicate with those who agree (or disagree) with us from all around the world made us dismissive, angry and prone to swathes of incorrect and offensive generalisations relating to the opposition?

Maybe I have a misguided sense of the importance of good manners, perhaps I just lack passion, and maybe I'm guilty of living a sheltered existence in some aspects of my life, but I do know this- however 'passionate' you feel about your chosen side of a debate, however strongly you believe in something, we'd all do well to remember that we are humans and that human to human, good manners and face to face conversations can make a massive difference in how marginalised people feel, and that in turn might just help to avoid swathes of extreme views whatever the debate, issue or argument. In a time where we have concerns about divisive or polarised politics, consider how you voice your opinion before you open your digital mouth, as much as you should before you open your physical one.

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