The argument is often made that social media is a harbinger of freedom of expression into the 21st century — but is it really free?
This is not to implicate the online troll armies that will threaten rape and plunder if the illegal occupation of a regime they support is questioned. There is something that is subsumed into this larger concept of online terror — online bullying. This doesn’t have to be intentional and most certainly does not have to be paid. It is most worrisome when it comes from the stringently moral, ‘woke’ social media police.
Social media’s moral police is always open for recruitment. Indeed it is possible to ascend to the position in one place, and then fall out of it, in another comment thread, on another post. Policemen spend time browsing exchanges on anything and everything, waiting for an opening to castigate, shame, and condemn. They have the self-assumed role of being alert to what they perceive is incorrect and unjust. It is entirely human to perceive anything contrarian to one’s personal beliefs as incorrect and unjust. Therein lies the danger of this patrol.
It is becoming increasingly difficult to express an opinion without fear of backlash. Every Facebook status needs to be a run a safety test — tempered for any word or clause that might outrage the social media police. Want to point out a legal glitch in everyone’s favorite activist putting up a case? You’d rather sit this one out. Want to say a revered celebrity’s statement on an issue was hollow and inadequate? Bad idea. Your ten silent supporters will not be able to fend off the rapid onslaught of criticism and name-calling from the moral accountability court you never invited into your quarters. The lynch mob is always ready, stakes lit, guns blaring.
The social media police has acquired a distinct set of weaponry — all shrouded in an armor of moral superiority that makes it impossible to call out. It latches on to trigger words and throws them around, attracting cohorts by the glamorized power of those words. You can ask someone to learn to take responsibility and be accused of threatening their mental health. The social media cop does an excellent job of deflecting the conversation to an unrelated premise, drowning out the stance of the original poster with the allure of their noise. Anything that is fashionable and new, that cannot be refuted but is entirely irrelevant to the matter at hand — like freedom, empathy, minority rights — is the line of attack the cop chooses.
An unfortunate penchant of social media’s all-righteous is their perennial search of strawmen. Every issue will need one, all the time. What does this do? It disrespects, and disregards, the truth. There is only one truth on woke social media — the one that fits smugly into its narrative. Everything but the side they have handpicked loses credibility. In many places, this selection is made by the popular and powerful, that have used their moral activism as a stepping stone to their position. They know that the mobs will flock to the defense of their choice, even when the reasons behind it may not be moral, may not be the truth. Evidence and due process lose meaning because there is only one verdict that will pacify the furor of the social media police — the one in their favor.
Unfortunately the bullying, even when initiated on flimsy grounds, aims to have and succeeds in having, effects beyond social media and beyond the person of their chosen straw men. Representatives of the social media police censure their family members and children as they crusade against the wrongs they presume he/she has committed. The attempt is to effectively kill the reviled ‘other side’ by intimidation than by reasoned argument.
Like most things, social media’s moral enforcement squad finds it difficult to evade class bias in its politicking. Sometimes the desire to look like guardians of moral rectitude exceeds the need to be guardians of moral rectitude. Why is more written and said on media about a celebrity feud than a horrific case of domestic abuse somewhere in the recesses of the country’s most remote province? There is more agitation for the trendy, because it is more likely to be noted.
What this culture of policing everyone’s right to a contrary opinion is doing is that it is bullying diversity of thought into silence. The dominant view is no longer that of everyone that exists in a society — but of everyone that is conspicuous on social media. How many times have you found a post distasteful but shared anyway, because everyone was sharing, because if you didn’t, would you still be a conscientious person? How many claims have you found dubious but have actively justified, for validation from the tens of thousands rallying for them on your Facebook, Twitter, Instagram? Many people are free on social media — they are free to agree with the moral police, free to acquiesce and earn benevolent showers of praise, likes, and heart-reacts.
Even more frightening is the fact that it targets the youngest and newest, the ones with only 300 friends on Facebook and 80 followers on Twitter. It actively excludes anyone that does not toe what is now the ‘right’ line from their own cyberspace. The desire is no longer to engage and discuss, but to troll and shut down. Social media police is forcing every one in the newest recruits on social media to post only what they will agree with, or bully them into not posting at all. The long term effect is social conditioning of their followers in a way that makes them see only a good/bad binary — there is the right side (their side) or there is the criminal one. This is harmful because it not only raises a generation that is trained to think monochrome, but because it taints the future of what is good and just activism.
(Featured Image: Brittany England Illustration)