That the internet is a wretched hive of scum and villainy, is hardly news. So much so that the pundits who had hailed the internet as a gateway to a new digital utopia in the ‘90s, are now offering their mea culpas. And with the internet rapidly taking over our lives, influencing our ideologies, and shaping our discourse, it has now become the most visible and vocal – if not yet the most influential – space for political debate all over the world, ergo becoming a major political force. To the point of influencing the course of the American Presidential Elections (and therefore the fate of the world).
This brave new dystopian digital universe that would frighten the Wachowski sisters, has given rise to new, bizarre subcultures, identities, and tribal affiliations. One wonders if the internet has perhaps achieved the very opposite of its intended effect of uniting people and facilitating communication, even as it ostensibly gives voice to the voiceless. And social media, especially Facebook, is emblematic of this large and varied world of the internet. Sure, the internet is far wider than a single social media site could hope to encompass – but with over 2 billion monthly users, chances are, if you’re on the internet, you’ve been on Facebook. Heck, if you’re reading this, chances are, you get most of your news and info off of Facebook.
With the rise of social media as an alternative social space that could rival countries, buoyed by instant accessibility and anonymity – and the rise of the aforementioned tribal groups and subcultures therein – political ‘discourse’ has entered new, fantastical realms of toxicity. I don’t mean to evoke a mythic past of dialectical playfulness where political discourse only consisted of witty rejoinders in the form of academic papers – the Lord knows that plenty of blood has been spilt over it, for good or ill. But the kind of toxicity that we have become accustomed to seeing in Internet debates and political discussions is quite unparalleled as far as day-to-day political discussions are concerned.
Just take a look at the average comment section on YKA’s Facebook page (before our editors sift through some of the more vile ones to make the thread palatable).
And with this new shift in the paradigm of political discussion, comes the pressure of taking a stand, of either making your alignments clear, or engaging with a debate that you have no stomach for, just because you want to come across as fair, and not be accused of creating an echo chamber. Nevermind how ineffective your average Facebook debate might be in terms of actual political praxis – the ever-present spectre of social media judgement, whether from our peers or our enemies, forces us to act against our best interests. And make comments like:
And I’m here to tell you – it’s okay to not engage. It’s okay to disengage. And most importantly, it’s okay to use Facebook’s surprisingly handy ‘block’ and ‘report’ tools to keep yourself away from toxic and hateful opinions. This does not automatically mean that you’re shutting yourself off from criticism, or disregarding opposing opinions – it means that you’re putting your mental well-being over continuing an ineffectual, stressful debate. Proper usage of Facebook’s reporting tools can even lead to action against some of the many, many hateful, racist, xenophobic, casteist, sexist, bigoted pages populating the corridors of social media.
Making the internet ‘healthy’ is a Sisyphean task – even erstwhile social media CEOs have admitted to not being able to keep their own platforms clean – and in this Mad Maxean warzone, it is important to look out for yourself and your own health, and ensure that at least your own corner of the internet is as clean as you can possibly make it. The internet may be beyond fixing – but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy all the good and/or useful things that it has to offer.