When blame is misdirected, everyone becomes the victim
Weapons of mass murder are blamed for the crimes committed by a few with the intention to disarm us all. In the same way, digital platforms are blamed for homophobia, racism and anti-feminism to censor us all.
It is true, the Internet is not reality, but it is also true that it is cyber reality. Social networks are today’s public squares.
Facebook and Twitter are platforms for dialogue, exchange of ideas, debate, and you cannot blame them for the content placed there, in the same way that you cannot blame homicides on shotguns themselves.
Social networking platforms do not generate conflict, users do, and it should not be possible to punish all users, creating policies of politically correct discourse, or censoring those who think in one way or another, because some user of social networks ‘offends’ or discloses ‘fake news’.
Those who feel offended by someone’s discourse should understand that the discourse that hurts them does not define them at all, and that supporting the censorship of some because they feel offended only punishes the billions who use the Internet to discuss, debate , dialogue and understand each other.
Begging for censorship of speech against people who you do not agree is equivalent to building walls around a square, so that no one can enter to talk, debate, criticize and create ideas.
What the censors make very clear with their intention to silence what offends them, which in many cases are positions that they do not understand, is their inability to analyze and tolerate -which they demand with every breath they take – criticism.
Dehumanizing the debate
Today, social networks are blamed for dehumanizing many of their users. That way of thinking is preposterous. It’s like blaming guns for homicides.
According to critics, it is dehumanizing to comment, share or LIKE a post on Facebook, Twitter or any other social network. The argument is that giving attention to those that offend someone or a social group, is to legitimize racism, homophobia or discrimination.
If we adopt this reasoning, it is clear that in the 21st century we could not talk, debate or disagree in parks and much less on social networks.
Those who push pro censorship policies are now calling for a code of conduct for the Internet.
Critics of social networks and other Internet platforms complain that sharing or commenting under a post, if this comment is not politically correct, violates the fundamental rights of people, because social values and privacy are often underestimated.
Is this not well known by users?
If we knew that people who gather at a bar or a plaza are all Femi-Nazis, or the Ku Klux Klan followers, would we go to that place to try to have a conversation about how the use of the term ‘toxic masculinity’, or the evils of racism affect one or the other? It is a decision of our own, and we know what we can expect if we go to that public place.
As in the case of firearms and public discussions, the problem is not digital platforms themselves, but the use we make of them.
How many lives have been saved by an armed citizen that works as an opposition to the abuse of a madman who tries to kill defenseless people? However, mainly left-wing groups continue to demand the massive disarmament of the populations, which would leave them in a worse situation in the face of organized crime, for example.
Social networks are fantastic, and inappropriate use of them by some people cannot be a reason to punish us all.
Should one then censor only those who offend?
What we must do is make it clear that there is responsibility for what we say on the Internet, as much as it exists when we do speak in a bar or a public place.
Social networks are not dangerous for coexistence, as many argue. Certainly they are not as dangerous as censoring speech because in the vision of some, discourse is offensive. Generalized censorship would be really dangerous.
Adopting the position of a user in thinking that a video or a comment incites hatred, that its writer is homophobic, xenophobic or racist is a type of group think, a type of collectivism to which society is comfortably accustomed.
What we do not like to read, hear or see in social networks is disputed with arguments, not with censorship.
Racism is left in evidence with intelligent arguments. Homophobia and xenophobia are refuted with the use of reason and evidence; not so that the supposed racists and homophobes agree with our point of view, but so that they are exposed as what they are.
The only code of speech control that always worked, in bars, squares and the privacy of our homes, and that undoubtedly works on digital platforms is THE TRUTH.
The truth is not alternative or ambiguous and that makes it the ultimate silver bullet. The problem about the use of truth in social networks is that users have not been vaccinated against their own ingenuity and ignorance.
Most users enter social networks to speak without knowing what they are talking about and to feel offended when they discover that someone thinks differently from them. They let themselves be defined by what someone says of the group they belong to, or when they feel that their leaders are insulted.
In Europe there are already those who ask themselves if social networks are a threat to human rights.
What does the Internet creator think about all this?
British scientist, Tim Berners-Lee, took advantage of the 30th anniversary of the Word Wide Web to reflect on the successes and errors derived from his invention.
“Although the web has created opportunities, given voice to marginalized groups and made our lives easier, it has also created opportunities for scammers, has given voice to those who proclaim hatred and made it easier to commit all kinds of crimes.”
There are also those who, from their feminist pulpit, already accuse men of the abuses committed on the Internet.
When the sexual video of a woman is distributed via WhatsApp, the abuse of who distributed it on the Internet is discussed, but there is no talk about the real culprit for the existence of the video: the woman – or the man in other cases – who recorded or let someone record such a video.
And when sex videos are recorded without consent, who do we blame?
Apparently, it’s the men’s fault, too. According to Raquel Herrera, a supposed expert in digital communication, “the swagger, the culture of the exhibition, is masculine.”
Herrera warns that “still in many situations it is considered that a man is a champion if he has many women, but when women have many men it seems to be a crime.”
Public lynchings on the Internet
Social networks converge private and social behaviors. For many users, there is an appearance of privacy, because they can say what they want from the anonymity of a profile, which is often false.
It is from this point that many times an individual is judged immediately, eliminating nuances and context.
The existence of a minority that has turned these platforms into an end, when in fact they are a means, cannot be attributed to all those who use social networks as a means of communication and debate.
In the same moment in which a video comes to the Internet or Facebook, its control is lost. It goes viral. Its diffusion can acquire a global dimension in the same way that gossip spreads through the neighborhood when a single woman becomes pregnant, or when a man chooses to dress as a woman at night.
Ignorance on the part of the users is monumental. We have a problem of education, and that problem will not be solved through censorship. We are facing a revolution in communication, a radical change.
In 10 years, uses and customs online have changed. Society is learning to use these platforms in the same way that societies of past centuries learned to gather in squares and later in bars, even when it was known that groups whose ways of thinking were opposite and in many cases knowing that some beliefs were offensive to one or the other.
The question then is, how and where is education supposed to come from and how it will help us understand the reach of social networks?
We must educate within the family so that the use of social networks is coherent and rational. It is the most logical approach and it is what has worked for hundreds of years. However, the use of family education is not heard of as a solution.
Because it is easier to impose on others what we want for ourselves. Perpetually offended people and their leaders want to correct human behavior by force. They do not realize, or perhaps they do, that technological changes are advancing at a vertiginous pace and society does not assimilate them with the same speed.
Most people are not qualified to drive a sports car in the same way as they are not in any capacity to use social networks; very powerful tools which users are not trained to handle.
Social networks have exploded in our hands and we are learning by trial and error. The sender-receiver duality of traditional media no longer works. The receiver is no longer a passive consumer of information.
Society is trapped in a hyperconnected ecosystem, with its advantages and disadvantages. We lack experience and accumulated knowledge. The sensation of privacy and intimacy has been lost on social networks.
Many teenagers engage in violent challenges, extravagant tests and ridiculous competitions to expand their online following.
On the web, videos circulate where young people compete in wild games. One of the latest fashions is to squeeze the neck of a person to cause fainting by asphyxia, an atrocity that coexists on the Internet with other absurd challenges, such as smearing the body with alcohol and catching fire, self-harm or moving from one room to another through high altitude hotel balconies.
It is precisely this lack of training and learning in the use of networks that makes users highly manipulable. We are predictable because companies know us. We give our privacy to Facebook and WhatsApp. They know everything we say.
To mitigate this omnipotent power, bureaucrats in Europe propose giving the bureaucracy and Big Tech companies more power in the form of ‘cooperation’. This is nothing else than sharing power to control what Internet users speech. They want a sort of partnership between social networks and public authorities as an antidote to the “poisons of cyberspace: intolerance, misinformation, incitement to hatred and attacks on privacy”.
Lack of education mixed with clamorous ignorance and an unlimited desire for notoriety, is an explosive cocktail that leads to feeding the networks with information solely intended to sell products or to win supporters at all costs, even when the product that is openly sold is us.
Most experts measure quantity or volume, but what will really improve the use of the Internet or social networks is Education. It is needed to prioritize and give importance to the qualitative.
Until now, the ‘human tribe’ has been able to educate, but for the first time in history it does not know how to educate for the use of the Internet or social media.
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Luis R. Miranda is an award-winning journalist and the founder & editor of The Real Agenda News. His career spans over 23 years in every form of news media. He writes about environmentalism, education, technology, science, health, immigration and other current affairs. Luis has worked as on-air talent, news reporter, television producer, and news writer.