The Perils of Internet Debates

I LOVE the internet. I’ve learned new cooking techniques and recipes, discovered new music, movies, books, and random trivia that might someday prove useful; and I probably love social media most of all. I can keep in touch with family and friends, reconnect with old friends, make new friends, stalk my favorite celebrities, and commiserate with other parents going through any and every imaginable situation with my children. The internet is hands-down one of my favorite things.


But the internet isn’t all unicorns and cat videos (that’s probably 80% of it; but not all of it). There are dangers to the internet; plenty of ways to get yourself in trouble, and plenty of people looking to take advantage of your wallet, your innocence, or even your life. This isn’t about the dark side of the internet; but it is about an issue I’ve noticed that seems to be becoming more and more prevalent as more people continue to use social media as a form of communication.


More and more people seem to be using social media as a platform these days to raise awareness for whatever political, religious, and social issues that they are passionate about. I think that is a wonderful and amazing thing. With just a few taps on your keyboard, you can reach out across the world to millions of people! You can find like-minded people to interact with to raise funds or spread the word about something that speaks to you that you want to be involved in; or, you can start a dialogue with others who may hold different views than you. That second part can be tricky and that’s what I was wanting to talk about right now.


There’s something lacking when we communicate with others online. You miss all the verbal and physical cues that you have when talking to someone face to face. It’s often easy to miss an attempt at sarcasm, or misinterpret something as serious when it’s meant to be light-hearted. These misreadings are usually easily fixed with a comment or two; but occasionally it results in hurt feelings or a loss of trust that can sometimes take awhile to be fixed. However, there’s also something much worse, in my opinion, that happens when the topic is something that people often have radically different and clashing views that doesn’t seem to happen when you are talking with someone face-to-face. When you are talking with someone in person you see them; and I don’t just mean physically. Even if it’s a stranger, you see them; and you know they are a fully-formed human being with thoughts, hopes, fears, dreams…they are a person as full and complex as you are. You weigh your words carefully, even in the middle of a passionate debate, because you see them and understand what they are; even if you don’t understand what they believe. However, when you get into the same discussion online; something is lost. You do not see an identity; you see an enemy. It’s so easy, when you see someone say something or post something online you don’t agree with, to instantly strip away their humanity so the only thing that is left is this idea that you hate. So with righteous anger you fight back. You insult and belittle this idea that you know in your heart is causing irreparable damage to this world and everyone in it; and they, seeing only the enemy ideal, fire back in same. Back and forth it goes, getting uglier, with neither side taking the time to consider that there is another person on the other side of this debate; only an evil to be eradicated from existence.


And it happens everywhere. Anything from the current political climate to whether you use cloth or disposable diapers. You see something on the internet that you disagree with; and it’s so easy to forget that there is someone on the other side of that post. Someone who loves their kids, loves their family, works hard, and suffers for the life they have; the same way you do. I know I’m guilty of doing it; and I have seen plenty of evidence that others do it too.


I doubt that anytime in my lifetime I will see the whole world unite; with every person agreeing on how to do everything. I’m not even sure I would want to see that. Surrounding yourself with only people who see everything the same way you do is the quickest way to stagnate your understanding of the world and learning new things. Talk to people who disagree with you; who challenge your view on everything from the best new television show to the best way to live your life to make a difference in the world. Just please, never forget that those words on your computer screen were written by someone working just as hard as you to get by in this world. Even though we may never all agree; civil discourse is the quickest way to eventually get to where we need to be.



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