ESTES PARK, Colorado – I often say that what happens on Twitter is not a reflection of American life in the real world.
The facts largely confirm this. Last month, a Pew survey showed that only 22% of American adults say they use Twitter. Twitter users are younger, identified more as Democrats, are more educated, and have more money than the remaining 78% who don’t use it.
Experiences also confirm this. Halfway through a trip on the back roads of 16 states across the country, I had a lot of people – both conservatives and liberals – who told me that if they are using twitter, they are not using the social media platform as we assume.
They mostly observe. And what they see often makes them not want to get into the discussion.
They are also concerned about how Twitter is being used as a brutal weapon to punish those with unpopular views, thus diminishing healthy speech for debating differences. They are not wrong.
The Twitter experience gives people a break from expressing their perspective on anything, because everything these days, even a video chat, is just a tap to become a political hot potato.
This is no small problem. We should be able to have a normal political debate. America was founded in part in a struggle to voice political disagreement. Many of us have not too distant ancestors who escaped oppressive societies, kingdoms, dictators and / or countries so that they and their children could voice their dissent. And yet, social media has become a place where it can be downright dangerous to do so.
What have we created? We were given a technological gift, and we abused it in the worst possible way. Social media might have allowed us to engage in the kind of open discourse that is the cornerstone of democracy.
Instead, said Paul Sracic, professor of political science at Youngstown State University, we use it to censor ideas that we don’t like or think are wrong. “The problem is, we don’t understand democracy. Democracy is not a question of truth. Democracy, or voting, is what we do when we don’t know the truth, ”he said.
The Catholic Church is not a democracy, and this is because it claims to possess religious truth. In matters of doctrine, voting would be a form of heresy. But whenever we don’t know the truth, we want to engage as many voices as possible.
“Today, however, both extremes of the political spectrum feel they have the absolute truth. So our political wars have become like the old wars of religion, and “error has no right,” Sracic said.
“So instead of informing us, social networks make us more ignorant by denying us the right to be wrong,” he lamented.
If we are not exposed to conflicting ideas that we could learn from because people fear being ruined by an attack on social media or so put off by vitriol and intolerance against opposing views, we will eventually hibernate within a tribe that looks and feels closest to us.
And we ourselves become inferior because of it.
The truth is, it is only by confronting and responding to arguments against our own positions that we can fully understand our own beliefs.
Sracic points to a line from GK Chesterton: “It is not fanaticism to be certain that we are right; but it is bigotry to be unable to imagine how we could have gone wrong. ”
Nothing new under the sun; silencing our political enemies is a very old political problem. What’s up, how many people are trying to silence you.
Or at least place just enough fear in yourself that you choose not to commit.
Writing in 1787, in the first of what we now know as the Federalist documentsAlexander Hamilton warned his readers that “so many indeed and so powerful are the causes which serve to distort judgment, that we often see wise and good men on the wrong side as well as on the right side.” major issues for society. This circumstance, if properly taken into account, would provide a lesson in moderation to those who are always so convinced that they are right in any controversy.
Sracic said Hamilton also warned that “in politics, as in religion, it is just as absurd to aim to proselyte with fire and sword. Heresies in either can seldom be cured by persecution.
The bigger question becomes: what if Twitter becomes real life? What if we face strangers in person on a daily basis as many people do on the platform?
Imagine walking down the street with a T-shirt with your favorite band on it and someone bumping into your face because they had a bad experience at one of their concerts. Or you drink coffee that someone says once offended him politically, then he starts to publicly accuse you of being a fanatic. Or dozens of people harass you for smiling at a comedian joke because they find their jokes offensive.
Twitter is a community that you join. Throughout our young history, joining and forming associations and communities has been an American pastime observed with admiration by French historian Alexis de Tocqueville, who noted not only that we form them forever, but that our society and the formation of our country have greatly benefited. .
So, is our society taking advantage of Twitter? Or should Tocqueville’s conclusions on the virtue of American-made communities be amended?
There are no easy answers here. As someone who sees a wide variety of human interactions both online and in person, my best observation is this: when we replace the communities at the human level in which we thrive – like religion, civic responsibility , education and volunteering – through online communities that give us a false sense of power, we are heading for failure.