First of all, I must acknowledge that social media platforms have made positive contributions to our society. The #MeToo movement, for example, and the sheer consciousness regarding sexual assault and rape it generated speaks volumes for the power of social media. People inside warzones can Tweet their experiences to us so that we can at least empathise with them and attempt to understand their plight. Social media platforms have, however, had a detrimental effect on a crucial aspect of society: discourse.
Let me make one thing very clear: I do not exempt myself of the accusations I’m going to put forth in this piece. I myself have signalled virtues as a means of rebutting another’s argument, made inappropriate jokes (a lot of them), insulted people, and showed utter disregard for nuanced and in-depth discussions. And that’s exactly why I quit social media. And a bunch of other reasons, which Dr Cal Newson will tell you all about in this video:
Social media has become a cesspit for virtue signalling and empty political rhetoric backed by empty emotion-laden narratives. Twitter and Facebook have reached the point where they’re seen as the golden sphere for discourse, when in actual fact they’ve turned into sewers of back and forth ad hominem attacks driven by nothing than cyber confidence, the levels of which are exponentially increased by the “firewall” protection that the cyber divide puts between us and our “online nemesis”. Donald Trump used social media to steal user data and manipulate voters because that is where voters are most gullible: in cyberspace. Cyberspace and the level of arrogant confidence it has allowed us to have in our own views has dumbed us down.
We’ve moved from the Age of Enlightenment, where academics and those with a real thirst for knowledge steered society forward through using empirical data, to the Age of Intellectual Laziness, where ideas and opinions put forth are not evaluated according to any measure of objectivity whatsoever, but rather by who opened their mouth and spoke their mind. We live in an era where constructive debate has been rendered extinct, for the very process of validating ideas and opinions now rests solely on judging physical attributes rather than the merits of the ideas and opinions themselves. Sure, bias does exist and without a shred of doubt influences people’s views, but presuming that alleged bias fully debunks a person’s viewpoint(s) is the epitome of intellectual laziness.
Avoiding debate that requires high levels of critical reasoning skills has never been so easy. Privilege does exist, but pointing it out does not invalidate someone’s view(s) by default. It may lead the person perceived as privileged into a process of introspection and revaluating their own views and that’s good, we all should constantly reconsider the views that we hold, but thinking that pointing out privilege is an actual valid rebuttal to an argument is far below the level of reasoning capabilities that we as the human species should have achieved by this point in our evolutionary timeline.
When is the last time people picked up a book or went onto an online academic journal site, and actually read literature where the research and findings presented were not intended to enhance political narratives, but to educate and broaden perspectives? When is the last time we were more interested in actual facts rather than who holds the moral high ground in an argument?
I’m not making a case for Stoicism here (I’ll do that in another piece). I’m simply trying to convince people, myself included, that we should stop being wilfully ignorant and narrow-minded arses that thrive in our own arrogance on our social media profiles, and start rethinking the way we go about discourse. Kill your Twitter account and create a profile on www.debate.org. Stop your YouTube video and pick up a book. Log out of Facebook and go onto www.jstor.org. Let’s start reengineering the way we go about discourse for, if not for our own sake, for sake of discourse itself.