“The further a society drifts from the truth, the more it will hate those that speak it” – George Orwell

Nick Kossovan: Social media epidemic is causing a lot of harmBeing accepted within social media confines is extremely important, particularly for young people, as face-to-face communication is rapidly being replaced by texting, posting, messaging, and commenting. What is troubling is it is becoming more common for people to use social media to (ironically) avoid social interactions.

Young people today often have difficulty looking you in the eye and having a live conversation because they are more comfortable communicating via social media, where they do not have to present themselves physically and can create an online persona that garners them popularity.

Not long ago, forming new relationships, joining a group, or interacting with others required you to call someone or leave your home. Today, many consider their Facebook friends their social circle, and texting/messaging has become the most prevalent form of communication. Ironically (again), social media is a contributing factor to the decline in possessing social skills.

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However, even as social skills diminish, the need to belong still exists, so people, particularly youths, latch onto moral bandwagons in order to feel connected to others.

Discussions about how social media affects our mental health and has created divisive religious, racial, and political climates have been endless. While these self-identifying divisions have always existed, they are now bubbling more angrily than ever, thanks to the ease with which individuals can use social media to spread self-serving “us against them” narratives.

An under-discussed effect of social media-driven society is that it subtly, and often overtly, promotes “moralizing.” Unsurprisingly, most social media flame wars occur between people, usually anonymously, over who is morally superior. By moralizing, I mean judging others based on their supposed good and bad behaviour. As a result of mass moralization, I believe something I would not have considered 10 years ago: the world needs less moralization … much less.

Moralizing is a problem because of how clueless and ignorant almost everyone, including myself, is about virtually every topic. We rarely really know both sides of an issue or story. Content designed to be emotionally provoking, coupled with the ease social media allows us to judge and condemn people we do not know and then anonymously post harsh judgments and insults, is how we ended up with a large segment of the population being self-righteous zealots hiding behind anonymous accounts.

A lesson that we should have learned from the pandemic is that everyone will, at some point, be wrong about something. It does not matter what your politics are, where you live, your gender, or your personal beliefs or risk tolerance level – at some point in the last three and a half years, you and I were wrong about something, in many cases, horribly wrong. Assuming you and I will be wrong about something again is a safe bet, which means that most of what you see or read on social media has, to some degree, “stupidity” baked into the self-serving motive for the content having been conceived and created. (All social media content is self-serving.)

Theoretically, people should have been humbled by the pandemic and become more accepting of others’ viewpoints. Instead, the opposite happened. The world became more polarized and angrier, with disinformation (READ: propaganda) spreading like wildfire, creating new “moral panics” almost daily.

Moralizing has gotten to the point where we now live in a world where you are negatively labelled and publicly shamed if you have a viewpoint, opinion or belief that goes against the self-appointed moral majority. If you oppose Israel’s continuation of the Israel-Gaza war, basically saying enough is enough; Israel has made its point, you are challenging the current moral panic. Rather than assuming you oppose escalating civilian deaths, the moral majority assumes you are pro-Palestinian, which, according to them, is equivalent to supporting Hamas.

Speaking your truth on social media platforms without anonymity requires a lot of courage. Therefore, I greatly admire those who do and withstand the attacks they know will come. Their courage reminds me of 1984 author George Orwell’s words, “The further a society drifts from the truth, the more it will hate those that speak it.”

As a result of moral grandstanding by bandwagoners seeking approval from their digital tribe, social media has become a battleground over whose position is supposedly the purest, as opposed to what it could be: a digital town hall where discussion of current issues takes place in a civilized manner, where differing opinions can agree to disagree, where the need to be right is not even a thought.

For this utopia to happen, social media users, especially those considered “an influencer,” would need to adopt what I believe should be the number one Internet rule: Instead of trying to prove others wrong, try to see in what sense they may be right.

Until all social media users adopt this Internet rule, I hope more and more people begin realizing the need to develop the critical thinking skills necessary to navigate our Twitter-driven world, along with the ability to avoid jumping to conclusions and reserving moral judgment, which are not only beneficial social skills for the digital world but also for the real world.

Nick Kossovan, a self-described connoisseur of human psychology, writes about what’s on his mind from Toronto.

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