So­cial me­dia not the right plat­form for politics

Global Times - - View Point - By Leila Hashemi The au­thor is an ed­i­tor with the Global Times. opin­ion@ glob­al­times. com. cn

Today, so­cial me­dia has be­come a soapbox for peo­ple to state their views on so­ci­ety, politics and re­li­gion. Re­cently, the Char­lottesville protest has caused a huge stir on Face­book. I can’t even scroll through with­out see­ing harsh words and posts from ei­ther side. One per­son even vented his anger on friends who had said noth­ing for or against what hap­pened. He said that notic­ing the lack of non- mi­nori­ties speak­ing out against the ac­tions in Char­lottesville makes him ques­tion the “poor choice of peo­ple” he as­so­ci­ates with. He even posted a quote from Holo­caust sur­vivor and po­lit­i­cal ac­tivist Elie Wiesel, “Al­ways take sides. Neu­tral­ity helps the op­pres­sor, never the vic­tim.”

On the other hand, I had a friend who posted an ar­ti­cle against the ac­tions of the alt- right, and peo­ple con­demned her for be­ing bi­ased. When she con­fronted the per­son who com­mented, ask­ing him to ex­plain why he felt that way, he mes­saged her pri­vately, ex­plain­ing that the alt- left were just a bunch of “cry ba­bies,” and that if they had stayed out of it the con­flict would not have hap­pened. While she didn’t agree, she said that she at least ap­pre­ci­ated hear­ing his side rather than just hav­ing an ar­gu­ment on open- fo­rum com­ments through a Face­book feed.

When it comes to re­li­gion and politics on so­cial me­dia, one faces a loselose sit­u­a­tion. You are cru­ci­fied if you do stand up and cru­ci­fied if you don’t.

One ma­jor dif­fer­ence I have no­ticed in China is how peo­ple use WeChat’s Mo­ments. It is less fu­eled by politics and more by food, fun and travel. While I do ap­pre­ci­ate that peo­ple are able to voice their opin­ions and share what they be­lieve, I don’t think that so­cial me­dia is al­ways the best place for that.

So­cial me­dia was de­vel­oped to keep us more con­nected with fam­ily and friends and to cre­ate a plat­form for shar­ing pho­tos and ex­pe­ri­ences that we would oth­er­wise not be able to share with peo­ple when we are far from home or those who we are not eas­ily con­nected with.

When speak­ing to a col­league about the mat­ter, he agreed and said, “If any­thing, so­cial me­dia helps po­lar­ize and rad­i­cal­ize be­liefs be­cause it con­denses them into cherry- picked small pack­ages of al­lur­ing ser­mons de­signed to con­vert peo­ple to ex­treme views. It’s also eas­ier to fab­ri­cate things on so­cial me­dia as it lacks the fact- check mech­a­nism of rep­utable me­dia out­lets.”

When scrolling through so­cial me­dia, you are also more likely to see things that sup­port your own point of view. This is be­cause we tend to sur­round our­selves with peo­ple who share our own be­liefs, which in turn causes us to see one side of a story or an event more promi­nently than the other.

My col­league also said, “Shal­low and un­re­li­able by na­ture, so­cial me­dia is not best- equipped to ad­vance any se­ri­ous dis­cus­sion about politics and re­li­gion in a con­struc­tive and mean­ing­ful way.”

In re­al­ity, most peo­ple will not change their minds through a bat­tle on so­cial me­dia. Usu­ally, it is just one side at­tack­ing an­other un­til it comes to a stand­still or de­volves into name calling and per­sonal in­sults.

In today’s age, it is hard to de­cide what to do in sit­u­a­tions like these. Even with WeChat, one must be care­ful when post­ing in­for­ma­tion re­lated to per­sonal be­liefs and politics.

You don’t know if your boss or co­work­ers may see your post and think neg­a­tively of you or treat you dif­fer­ently be­cause of your be­liefs. Even though it shouldn’t hap­pen, it does. That’s why peo­ple have be­come more and more aware of pri­vacy set­tings on so­cial me­dia ac­counts.

I can per­son­ally say that I have judged peo­ple on things that they have posted on Face­book or WeChat, and if I was hir­ing or de­cid­ing if I wanted to start a re­la­tion­ship, be it friendly or ro­man­tic, a per­son’s posts have an im­pact on my im­pres­sion of them.

In ad­di­tion, many of the peo­ple who were in­volved in the Char­lottesville protests were fired from their jobs be­cause they were spot­ted on footage and pic­tures at the event sup­port­ing the alt- right or car­ry­ing Nazi sym­bols dur­ing the protests.

In today’s dig­i­tal age, you can­not eas­ily hide in a crowd or get away with things that you could have in the past. This is why I per­son­ally choose to stay out of politics and re­li­gion on­line.

There is a com­mon rule in the US that there are two things you don’t talk about at fam­ily gath­er­ings to keep the peace – politics and re­li­gion. I will carry that over into my so­cial me­dia pres­ence as well.

Illustration: Liu Rui/ GT

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