Rational debate killed in the sewer of social media

Rational debate killed in the sewer of social media. By Chris Kenny.

There is no political issue in most countries where Twitter is not habitually wrong — so that whatever is popular on that medium will be rejected by most of the population.

The situation is different in the US because that is the one liberal democracy where, for now, it verges on acceptable for young people to identify as being right of centre; so social media is still ugly and brutal but at least it hosts a contest of ideas. …

So much potential, but our nature makes us do this?

In this century, we are blessed with instant access to infinite amounts of information, often from primary sources, as well as endless analysis and commentary from every corner of the globe. Far too many people waste their time shouting digital abuse at each other, or regurgitating views they agree with from accounts chosen by the faceless match­makers of the Facebook algorithms, instead of reading, discussing or learning.

The digital revolution was going to democratise the media, personalise democracy and mobilise the truth, but instead it has polarised and emaciated the media, dragged politics into the mire of anonymous bullying, and fostered deceptive memes, fake news and pile-ons. And we wonder why young adults know more about Meghan Markle’s gratuitous gripes than they do about the separation of powers.

This is not a throwaway whinge. The digital degeneration of our public square and political processes is not just an easy target for columnists and conversationalists — it has serious consequences. Aggressive outsider Donald Trump took the Republican nomination and won the presidency in 2016 largely based on his use of social media to subvert the curation and homogenisation of the mainstream media. …

If you doubt [social media’s] effectiveness, ask yourself why Beijing geo-blocks a wide variety of content, censors digital media and publicly punishes citizens for dissenting views published online. …

Why is social media such a sewer?

At its core is a lack of accountability. The enticement of being able to post widely and often about anything — without submitting to editors, curators, lawyers or peers — encourages bravado and aggression, and it fosters an impetuousness that ­values gut feelings over facts, and devalues the time and effort required to get across the facts.

The lure of virtue signalling, along with ever-present peer group pressure, are further forces for conformity. Emotionalism triumphs over rational thought. …

Judgments are made and allegations thrown around, without regard for facts, by people ­ignorant of or untroubled by the laws of defamation and contempt.

This freedom could liberate debate; but instead of letting a thousand flowers bloom, it shares the scrawls of a thousand dunny doors. People are unthinking enough about what they post without the added shield of anonymity — requiring people to post under their real names, with proof of identity, would not eradicate the problems but it would improve the situation.

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