How Social Media Breeds A Culture of Cowardliness and Entitlement
Social Media acts a a double edged sword. On one hand, you can network, start a career, connect with old friends, expand your world view, find solidarity with people in your community, etc. (and one day, I may write about all the positive aspects of social media because it truly can be great). But on the other hand, social media platforms have been abused by bullies who feel way too entitled to share their "opinions", under the guise of free speech, even if those thoughts and opinions are hurtful to others. Social media exposes people's cowardliness. People hide behind screens and unrecognizable avatars, verbally attacking people in ways they'd never do in person. And time and again, people are called sensitive for expressing valid concerns regarding people's behavior and speech on the internet. I guess there is this misconception that anyone has a right to say anything because "it's just Twitter" or "it's constructive criticism", but it's more than that. There is a difference between reasonable criticism of a public figure, for example, and bullying someone. NO, you don't have a right to be racist online. NO, you don't have a right to attack people's appearances. NO, you don't have a right to make jokes about people's sexual preferences or gender identity. And NO, you don't have the right to bully, harass, and/or terrorize people online just because you can. The internet is not "too sensitive", you're just an asshole.
I remember when I first joined Twitter in 2012; I was fourteen years old. But even before then, I was on Facebook throughout middle school, and I had a Myspace when I was like ten years old. Therefor, I consider myself a seasoned social media veteran because I grew up in this culture (probably way earlier than I should've, but that's a different discussion for a different day). Anyway, I remember what Twitter was like even then. Scrolling through my timeline, I've seen tons of people say we should return back to 2012 Twitter because "the internet is too sensitive nowadays". At that time, you could say whatever you want without "cancel culture" catching up with you, and nobody was held accountable for the weird and offensive things they would say. At fourteen years old, as a young black girl, I was seeing black women be made a spectacle of on the internet for the sake of comedy, clicks, views, and clout. While I was trying to rid myself of feelings of self loathing and shed the thought that I wasn't good enough or pretty enough or worthy, I was watching as black women were being compared to roaches, rats, and gorillas on Twitter. Similarly, homophobia and trans-phobia was the norm. Then (and still now) people constantly make jokes about the LGBT+ community. As a kid, that's the content I was a witness to. People have valid concerns surrounding the often mean spirited nature of the internet. In the past few weeks, I've seen Lizzo attacked for her weight, Ari Lennox, Teyana Taylor, and Blue Ivy (BLUE IVY!!! WHO BY THE WAY IS A SEVEN YEAR OLD!!!) attacked for their looks. Afterwards, Ari Lennox was rightfully upset and made an emotional video about how she felt hurt at the constant ridicule surrounding her appearance. People then had the audacity to tell her to lighten up. I want to highlight something she said in her response video because I think it is extremely relevant. She said,
"And you wanna talk about how 'oh people are so sensitive they want us to cancel freedom of speech' WHY IS THIS YOUR SPEECH? ... Stop trying to play ni**as like they're not supposed to care." -Ari Lennox
There is often this thing the internet does of bullying people and then gas-lighting them afterwards for rightfully having hurt feelings. Ari Lennox is right, hate speech should not be your preferred speech. If your exercise of freedom of speech is tearing others down, then you need to re-evaluate your priorities. Marginalized people don't exist for the sake of entertainment or to always be made the butt of a joke. And, there shouldn't be this annoyance around people challenging inappropriate behavior on and offline. "Sensitive" people aren't ruining the internet. Assholes are. Cowards are. It's not made the internet worse that people are standing up for things they care about and shedding light on often systemic issues that trickle down into our perception and treatment of each other as well as our speech. Bottom line, we all need to learn to do better.
Comparatively, society is no more sensitive now than it has ever been. Y'all cancelled and blacklisted Winona Ryder for stealing from SAKS. Y'all cancelled and blacklisted Janet Jackson for an accidental nip slip that wasn't even her fault. Y'all cancelled and blacklisted the Dixie Chicks for saying fuck Bush (which fuck him), but somehow let R Kelly slip through this so called "cancel culture." It seems like the internet is hypercritical of women and holds them to impossible standards for everything. We don't need to go back to 2012 or any other year before that. The world was never better [insert year from a long time ago]. It's gone and we've moved passed that. This constant idealization of the past is so backwards. It displays people's utter resistance to grow up. I've literally grown up with social media, and as it grew and evolved, so did I. At some point between 2012 and 2013 social media became more political and I'm eternally grateful for it. Instead of just entertainment, social media became a place for activism and specifically allowed marginalized people to have a voice in a way we've never had before. People aren't sensitive, they're passionate.
Furthermore, the same etiquette that is expected of us during everyday life, is the same etiquette we should have on the internet. All of us who have social media accounts, whether on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube, etc. have a moral responsibility to uphold ethics and use our platforms (however big or small) with a certain level of social responsibility. We also need to remember, there are kids on social media. Some as young as 9 years old. Whether you agree with that or not, as adults we need to practice what we teach kids in elementary about basic kindness and respect. There were things even I had to learn were not okay in any context just because they were "okay" on the internet. We need to set an example of what we expect from kids because what we don't want is for other little black girls to be on social media in 2020 and see black women, or women in general, attacked for things that make them, them. What we don't want is to create another bigot or bully because of our speech. What we don't want is for progress surrounding bullying, discrimination, and prejudice to become stagnant because we can't seem to know what it means to just treat people with respect ON AND OFF THE INTERNET.
***Author's Note: I'm aware of the devastating fires in Australia, affecting the country's citizens and wildlife. I'm going to leave some links below where you can send a donation to aid the environmental efforts Australia desperately needs right now. #wedontwanttohearkoalacrys
NSW Rural Fire Service: https://www.rfs.nsw.gov.au/about-us/fundraising
Country Fire Association: https://www.cfa.vic.gov.au/about/supporting-cfa#donate-cfa
Wildlife, Information, Rescue, and Education (WIRES): https://www.facebook.com/donate/1386120504919105/10158318179549750/
Youtuber Chloe Morello has started a GoFundMe to help victims of the fires in Batemans Bay. For more information, click the link below and donate if you can: