Although we can generally say that social media has made life easier for many people (allowing people to keep contact with relatives on the Moon, and finding long lost 4th cousins), the ability to “shut out” viewpoints or people who don’t conform to your own views can be seen as a way of strengthening biases, e.g. If I only have friends on Facebook who are afraid of heights, I will only be exposed to the negatives of heights, and will never be able to reconcile my thoughts with the idea that there are wonderful things at the top of mountains. Same goes for all issues which have a biased foundation.
The current predicament with social media is that each person has the freedom of speech, and if that speech is constrained to a community of followers who are in the same mindset, then it isn’t by any means offensive. An ethical loophole misused by many. The problem is this is reinforcing these views in other people, having them believe that what they are thinking and saying is objectively ethical, and this is when people take to public spaces outside their like-minded community. It is in this context that I believe “responsibility” is a subjective term.
Thought leaders with biased views on delicate issues such as race, gender, orientation, religion, etc. are free to make claims without reciprocation just because they have a large following, and knowing that it’s impossible to apprehend an entire community plays in their favour. Apprehend the leader, and you have a whole community from which to pick the next leader. A vicious, unstoppable cycle. Anonymity doesn’t particularly help either. No face = no responsibility.
I’ve been called countless names on social media for the amount of pigmentation in my skin and, for some reason, the parts of my anatomy associated with the Y chromosome. It is of utmost importance that these issues be looked at rationally. Thought leaders need to create a space in which their followers are critical thinkers, and not biased adherents. Don’t force people to think like you. Ask questions, make people come to their own conclusions in a rational way. Thought leaders need to understand that everything they do has a ripple effect. Every word they say has an influence on someone who, in turn, has an influence on other people, ad infinitum.
Why can’t we rationally “design” a community standard that doesn’t curb freedom of speech, but rather cultivates objectively moral and ethical conduct? Why can’t we create a community that solves delicate issues without being subjective?
This is an answer to “What does it mean to be a responsible digital citizen?”
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