I was initially drawn to Facebook as a way to re-connect with friends from my past, all the way back to high school, that I had lost touch with over the years. I was able to reach out to, contact, and catch up with people I knew that, if it hadn’t been for the social media platform, it is unlikely I would ever have interacted with them again. There was value in that for me.
I was naive at the time about the data mining, targeted marketing, and manipulative media that came along with rediscovering long lost friends. It really didn’t bother me early on because I didn’t buy into it, and it really wasn’t that intrusive at first. Over time, it became more pronounced, and began to detract from my online social interactions. Concurrently, the atmosphere became increasingly polarized, and people, mostly newer “friends”,became more willing to put aside civil discussion and engage in ad hominem attacks and character assassination. I wouldn’t necessarily “unfriend” these people, but I would eventually “unfollow” them so I wouldn’t have to deal with their nonsense. I have to admit to occasionally responding in kind, which left a bad taste in my mouth and a hollow feeling in my soul.
These days I choose not to engage in these discussions for the most part in order to avoid compromising my own ethical code. I will discuss sensitive issues with people I know have an even temperament and will stick to a civil discussion of the salient points of the topic. Its rare, though. As my mom used to say, “We can disagree without being disagreeable, and come to a reasonable compromise that moves us forward as a group.” Thanks Mom!
I think we have, as a society, retreated into our “filter bubbles” (Raicu, 2016) as a result of this lack of civil discourse. Is it a result or a cause of the political polarization in our society? I don’t know, maybe both at this point. The online atmosphere has degenerated to a point that, just yesterday a man, Brandon Fleury, was arrested by the FBI for sending threatening messages to “relatives and friends of students who were killed in the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.” The stated intent of this activity was to gain online notoriety! (abc7.com, 2019, January 22.) The ethical decision at this point may actually be non-participation.
Raicu, I. (2016, Mar 17). Unfriending in a Time of Political Turmoil. Markkula Center for Applied Ethics. Retrieved from: https://www.scu.edu/ethics/internet-ethics-blog/unfriending-in-a-time-of-political-turmoil/
Santa Ana man arrested on suspicion of threatening Parkland survivors on social media – abc7.com. (2019, January 22). Eyewitness News. Retrieved from: https://abc7.com/santa-ana-man-arrested-for-allegedly-threatening-parkland-survivors/5102188/