The dark-side of social media: the chasm of polarization
But social conversation also has a darker side; one which has an equally transformative power, but often goes unrecognized until the damage is done. That dark side is the undermining striation and polarizing effect of opinionated conversation.
While social media has given anyone with an internet connection an audience and a voice far greater than history has seen before, how we choose to wield that power to express opinion must be done so with thought and intent. Without it, we begin to see that dark-side rear its head and begin culture shifting us into opposing sides of issues that are either wholly irrelevant, or have far more facets than a simple two-sided opinion could accurately contain. As with most things in life, there are very few times when something is as simple as right and wrong.
How we discuss these issues, however, can either serve to help or hinder our cause… or in an even more Homeric manner, help or hinder our future. We are all embarked upon our own Odyssey, and the choices we make on a day-to-day basis relating to how we use our social voices, defines our collective end result. Understanding how our words impact not only ourselves, but our community and our culture is a critical insight we need to recapture.
Take, for example, current political discussions. I am certain that neither of the major parties are hell-bent on destroying the United States. More so I am also certain that both parties believe in their hearts that they are doing the right thing to ensure the success of the country and avoid failure. That is not, however, the indication anyone would get from social conversations which frame the issues into an us versus them mentality; that we are right and they are wrong. This deeply polarized view leaves no room for the plethora of grey areas that surround such complex issues involved with a government covering such a vast geographic region and the millions of people to whom it is beholden.
Social media, by virtue of the short sound-bite type postings, encourages over simplification of complex topics when the realities of life dictate the absolute opposite: that there are not simple solutions to the issues we face today. After all, if there were simple solutions, these diametrically opposed conversations would be short-lived and the simple truth of right versus wrong would prevail. Instead, we are faced with conversations laced with vitriolic and polarized speech, serving only to widen the gap between “us” and “them”.
The dark-side, dear friends, is the chasm of divergent opinion growing between us all. That chasm, as it grows, pulls us apart from community and drives us towards more insular engagement bordering on xenophobic, and the desire to remove ourselves entirely from open conversation.
The take-away and call to action here?
Pause for a moment and recognize that none of us want to destroy our country. Before using our social soap boxes to lambaste perceived opponents of opinion, step out for a moment and look at the larger picture to see all points of view knowing that anyone who holds a differing opinion feels just as correct as we do. So, when we return to our social channels and engage in conversation either in our own posts or as comments in others’ posts, we are sure to do so with respect, rationality, and an understanding that we are all in this together. If we can do that, we can begin fighting this chasm of simplistic and polarized ideologies and work not to build a bridge over it, but to fill it in so it no longer even exists. Realize that when we use our social pedestals to speak, people really do listen and with that audience comes responsibility to use your voice wisely, with an understanding of both the positive and negative effects it can have.