Feb. 5, 2016: The problem with social media, by Amanda Mocaby

February 5, 2016 by

Amanda Mocaby

Amanda Mocaby

We all know the classic childhood defense against hurtful insults: “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me.” But as discussion about schoolyard bullies and hate speech has intensified, this phrase has lost its hold — and maybe for good reason.

I’m no expert on human behavior but I’ve lived through high school, sorority recruitment week (actually that is all I made it through, hence never actually joining a sorority) and employment in a hierarchical, corporate workplace. And now I am trudging through the waters of building lasting and meaningful relationships in adulthood.

I know that as humans, we have natural impulses to speak our minds, justify our actions or intensions and lay blame for corruptions we see in the world. Today our platform for expressing those impulses is often social media; thanks to technology, acting on impulse is just one click away.

This may seem harmless, but it often is not. Somehow we seem to forget that the little inch-by-inch profile image is actually another living, breathing human being on the other end of the computer connection. This can create two issues in our social media.

The first is that we cultivate groups of like-minded people and we tend to “unfriend,” “unfollow,” or “uninvite” others with differing opinions. We create an echo chamber of our own opinions where it is not a pre-requisite to fact-check your posts and as a result, biased opinions, unfactual data and rumors muddy the water of the actual debate.

Yet, in my opinion, it’s the second issue with social media that has an even worse affect on society and even our community.

We have all probably witnessed how an online discussion can quickly turn into a heated debate or worse, an angry mob. And this is where I believe the real downfall to social media lies. We conduct ourselves differently online than we do in “real life.” We are much more quick to judge, jump to conclusions, and dismiss individuals based on their lifestyles.

Recently, I watched as an online discussion turned ugly. A young woman (who I later learned was a single mother) posted on a popular media outlet that she was in need of work and hoped someone would be able to direct her to an opportunity. She listed a couple employers that had already terminated her due to absences.

Her post attracted multiple comments almost immediately. Some gave suggestions of opportunities but the overwhelming majority of comments were judgmental, condemning and simply unhelpful. I would bet the people leaving these comments did not know this woman, nor did they understand her barriers or hardships. Fortunately, there were some brave souls that defended her (to my shame, I wasn’t one of them).

This experience really shook me. I am relatively new to the community of north central Kansas and I felt saddened. Now, I know this is not specific to our area and I know there are much harsher environments to call home. But, the reality of it is that negativity on social media is killing the small town charm. As a community we should embrace people facing hardships and give them support to lean on. If we don’t have that, what do we have?

Maybe it’s time to rethink that classic childhood taunt. In social media, at least, words can, and do, hurt.

 

— Amanda Mocaby is president of the Concordia Chamber of Commerce.

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