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August 13th, 2020
L&T Opinions Page

earl watt mugL&T Publisher Earl Watt


If you feel like your life is just too happy, spend a few minutes on social media, and I promise you, your mood will change.

When you want the answer as to why we have become such a polarized nation, look no further than Twitter and Facebook.

These two entities thrive on hate and discontent, and they use their platforms to fan the flames of controversy into some of the most hate-filled comments you would never hear in person.

Some call them keyboard warriors, but there are those who sit at their keyboards and rail against everything they think is wrong with the world and almost never offering solutions.

If you disagree with their assessment, you become a target of their rage, and the subject of discussion is no longer important. You are the enemy, and they will seek to destroy you as best they can by whatever means they can.

According to the Center for Disease Control, suicide rates for those between the ages of 10 and 24 rose 56 percent form 2007 to 2017.

The leading cause for the rise — social media and cyberbullying.

According to Dorian A. Lamis, an assistant professor in the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Emory University School of Medicine/Grady Health System, girls are more affected by the social media and cyberbullying, and that is why teenage suicide rates in girls has reached a 40-year high.

“Some research has suggested that the timing of puberty in girls is a contributing factor for the increased suicide rate," Lamis said.Puberty can begin as early as 8-years-old in some girls and that leaves them “vulnerable to depression, anxiety and other psychiatric disorders earlier on in life.”

The cyberbullying doesn’t stop for teens. Try to have a civilized conversation on politics and you will quickly learn that the mudslinging isn’t reserved for candidates in hotly contested races.

I have had people go to my personal page and pull my own images to use as fodder in a political debate.

The topic is quickly replaced with you as the target.

“Anyone who believes in border security is a racist.”

“I can’t believe you would support a man like Trump. You people make me sick.”

“If you support police, you are a racist and a Nazi.”

There is actually a phenomenon called Godwin’s Law that asserts the longer a social media thread continues, the greater the possibility someone will be called a Nazi.

Social media could have been used for a great good where we learned to listen to each other and learn about different cultures, hobbies and people.

Instead, we huddle with others exactly like us, “unfriend” anyone who makes us angry because they have different views, and ridicule those who won’t conform to our way of thinking.

It was only natural that polarization would be the outcome.

Most people believe themselves to be reasonably minded, so it was only natural that anyone else who disagreed was an extremist form the other side.

That way of thinking turned everyone into an extremist when viewed by others.

When one of “our own” then made a slight concession on a point, we chastise them for their weakness and either bully them back in line or expel them as not really one of “us.”

Twitter and Facebook have highlighted our differences rather than created a better understanding, and it has driven a wedge right through the heart of America.

Before these platforms emerged, we had to talk to each other face to face, and we learned to hold our tongues and control our temper. We also communicated by hearing the inflection of the words so we could better understand the point a person was trying to make, something that is lost in social media rants.

We did a better job of listening when we came together as a community than we do behind a keyboard sharing our rage over the newest action that set our hair on fire.

Comedians can no longer make jokes because social media warriors will crucify them for any off color statements, advertisers get nervous because of backlash, and they buy into the mob mentality of the social media outrage.

If anything, advertisers on any of these platforms should be concerned for supporting the venue for distrust, vitriol and hate.

I’ve tested many on social media who believe themselves to be moderate. When I offer a compromise on almost any issue, they completely reject it. Their position, in their view, is the only reasonable solution. They don’t understand that there are others who disagree because they have surrounded themselves with only like-minded views. Because of that, they don’t feel the need to compromise at all. They have a system of support.

We all have to admit none of us are exactly in the middle, and none of us have all the answers by ourselves. 

We also have to admit there is no right answers in politics. Everyone’s opinion is valid no matter what social media tells you.

When engaging in online discussions, keep the thread about the topic, not about the people participating in the discussion. As soon as anyone starts to take personal shots, at your or anyone else, guide them back to the issue.

We won’t agree on the issues. 

Agreement on every issue isn’t required. What is required is the freedom to have different views without persecution, or threats of violence or retaliations against businesses who support one candidate over another.

I have had social media warriors contact local businesses to request them not to advertise because they researched me and found where I worked.

Is that the America any of us want?

Facebook began in 2004, and Twitter in 2006.

Since then, the partisanship divide has escalated dramatically, and it is a direct results of social media bile. If we do not find a way to return civility to our interactions, we will reach a place where one side will no longer tolerate any other.

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GUEST COLUMN, Greg Doering, Kansas Farm Bureau


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