The “comments section”. Snapshot of humanity or alternate reality?

We’ve all been the victim of it, we’ve all probably been the villain at times too! If you’re reading this now then chances are you’ve gone to battle with (or been attacked by) another commenter. It stings, it’s personal and it’s addicting! Not only that, it appears to be getting worse and worse!

At a point in history where humanity has seen the exponential growth of our technology, our potential and population; “The Internet” and the rise of social media could easily be seen as a birds-eye perspective of the current state of our societies and their social norms. But is that the case? Or is the internet just the manifestation of a reality free of consequence?

Who doesn’t feel brave in the comfort on their own space, behind their own device, from the safety of their own profile? Social media allows us to define ourselves with imagery, short bios and social associations. But much like the way we can dress ourselves to align with an idea of what we want people to see, we can also build our digital appearance. For some it’s an opportunity to represent themselves as the way they honestly hope/believe they are. Or invent a completely parallel avatar to appear the way they want the world to see them. That’s a lot of power! A power strong enough to essentially alter their corner of this “digital reality” completely! Not only that. This new and invented self is out there! Mingling with other invented concepts of “real people”. And they’re at war!

So when someone says something racist, sexist, aggressive, violent etc. is that the truth? Are we looking beneath the veil of how they fit in to the “real, physical world” or just the alternate version they have developed for the online “realm”? Maybe that’s nonexclusive. Honestly, how could we even begin to know? What I do know is this: Social media is likely to be the reality most of us communicate within now. Our cultures are so plugged into it now that it’s killing us on the roads! There’s such a high importance on staying connected to it that a large number of people are willing to risk their own safety to use it!

Humans have always had a big issue getting along with each other. Look at human history (honestly, any of it) and you’ll see this has been a bit of a shortfall of human evolution.

What did we think was going to happen when we allowed 1.79 BILLION of them to talk to each other from opposite ends of the earth… instantly… impulsively and worse yet… emotionally?

I’d say it’s probably going about as well as to be expected.

Where things start to go wrong? When this false reality we believe we’re plugged into starts being adapted into our physical lives. Why is that a problem? Because for better or worse, the internet has made minorities a thing of the past. A person may not have any ability or opportunity to spew their hate-filled and bigoted thoughts at the workplace, school, train station or any other place that people tolerate having them around. They might be excluded for doing so. But in digital reality, finding another 5, 10, 50, 100, 1000 people to enable and resonate with those thoughts? Not so hard. Not only do their own statements gain (unwarranted) traction, but their affiliates are also ready to go when it’s time to attack opposing (probably fairer?) ideals.

Facebook, google, twitter, they all use algorithms specifically designed to align with your personal world view. They have obligations to their advertisers and they need to make sure you stick around, keep reading, clicking and driving up their revenue. That’s not very easy to do if one of your users is a KKK grand dragon and Facebook keeps telling him that afro-americans are people too.

Will this get better soon? Will we figure this out? History says “no”, but don’t lose hope yet:

Next time you want to avoid an all-nighter flame-war with NO victor, keep this in mind:

  1. You do not have a personal vendetta against this commenter, you have not and probably will not ever meet this person! (and if you do already know this person, well now you know them “better” and do you really want to bring MORE of that into your life?)
  2. Try and find common ground. Can you understand what they’re saying without having to actually agree to it? (better yet, do you actually know what they meant? Or did you just assume you do?)
  3. Imagine you saw that person stand in front of a group of people and say whatever garbage they just posted… how would that go down if they did? Would they actually have the guts to say that out loud? And if they did then what kind of person would they have to be? Probably one standing (or unconscious) in a now empty space.
  4. If someone has made a comment that offends you and pushes your buttons, they’re your buttons! You might not agree with or like what they said, but maybe you’re wrong. No one gets through life without being wrong at some point. Maybe it’s a good idea to consider whether this is one of those times.

We have the fastest communication in history, it’s amazing! We’ve done amazing things with it, i’m sure we will continue to do amazing things with it.

But the one thing that hasn’t been enhanced or even really given a chance to be represented in this globally connected platform is context. 

We are not the worst thing we’ve said (any of us would be permanent outcasts if so) and neither is the idiot that made a comment about your parenting on an Instagram post.

The internet is a reality. Good or bad? I guess that depends on your algorithm. So “like” responsibly. We’re contributing to human history one post at time, what’s your contribution going to be?