One click and you’re history ~ how social media makes us more isolated and intolerant.

One click and you’re history ~ how social media makes us more isolated and intolerant.

You know the drill.

Someone has hurt you. These days it’s just as likely to be someone on a social media network as it is to be someone in real life whom you see face to face. There’s a reason for this.

I love social media. There’s a better chance of finding your tribe than simple geography allows. There’s quite simply MILLIONS of people out there. You can refine your basic parameters and hey presto, instant social circle.

Except for one thing. Most of them will be hundreds if not thousands of miles away. You see them only by the words they write. Or by the statuses they post on Facebook. Or by their blogs. A few you progress to chatting with on messaging facilities. Even fewer, on Skype. Some you talk to on the phone. A very small number you end up meeting face to face. My goodness, but this is a wonderful feeling. I have had coffee with some chums, stayed with a few others, chinked glasses in cocktail bars with one or two, given city tours to others. It’s a good feeling.

But there is a downside. People are not cardboard cut-outs, acting out my fantasies (steady, the Buffs!) but real people with lives, thoughts, feelings of their own. They think, live and believe things that are quite different to the way I do. Sometimes I see what friends post on Facebook and Twitter and I recoil in shock. Truly. In the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting atrocity, I saw things that made me shake. People I believe to be decent, good folks airing their views on gun ownership that were quite at odds with my own beliefs about guns. I saw fights break out over it.

Every time something powerful happens, I see the same thing. People fighting over their right to believe what they do, whether it’s in a political stance, a religious one or over music. It rapidly gets nasty, and what usually follows is a blazing row followed by a silence. The silence is usually because one or other of the parties involved has deleted or blocked the other.

In an instant, years of internet friendship is gone. Every Christmas present posted, every jovial exchange, every key moment shared in their mutual lives, all lost.

Don’t agree with my political stance? Deleted!

Dislike my religious faith? Unfollowed!

Hate my liking for cats and of posting pictures of kittens? Unfriended!

Object to sharing of youtube links? Blocked!

It’s too easy.

Imagine the person you have taken umbrage at is standing in front of you, helpless. You have a gun. You can put it to their head and without fear of consequence, you can pull the trigger, and that will be it. Would you do it? No, of course you wouldn’t. But in many cases, that’s what’s really in the minds of people when they remove another from their virtual life. Getting rid of a problem permanently and without mess or apparent consequence.

It diminishes all of us. It dismisses the very real value of learning to get on with people we don’t agree with all the time. It stops us learning to live and let live.

Each time a person cuts out someone they find they’re come to loggerheads with, something happens they don’t see. They lose the mirror others hold up to us and to our own behaviour and attitudes. We need others to disagree with us sometimes, because it helps us reassess our core values and beliefs. It stops us feeling as if we are paragons. Believe me, I hate anyone criticising me, having a pop at me for something. But like anyone else I need it. I need to see the other side of a story, the side I don’t want to see because it makes me uncomfortable and angry.

Someone had me hovering over the unfriend button because they were posting some pretty disturbing things about abortion, but I stopped. I spent time thinking about something that upsets me and it was good for me to do that. It reminded me of why I feel what I do about that subject but it also taught me that people always have reasons for their feelings. I’d dug a little deeper, just by reading their posts and comments, to see that there had been severe suffering that had brought them to this viewpoint. I felt compassion and I was able to step back and disagree, but allow him to hold his view as a valid one. That’s the key, you see:

You are not me and I am not you. You have been places I have not been and never will. I have done and seen things you have not. You have reasons for your beliefs and so do I. I may not agree with them but I would defend your right to hold them.

But the more a person hacks away at those who don’t quite fit their world view, the smaller their world becomes. Each time a layer of others is pruned away, the remainder become more and more closely scutinised for any signs of heresy.

I’d like to end by sharing some words by Anthony de Mello, from his book, The Song of the Bird:

The Old Woman’s Religion

A very religious-minded old woman was dissatisfied with all existing religions, so she founded one of her own.

One day a reporter who genuinely wanted to understand her point of view, said to her, “Do you really believe, as people say you do, that no one will go to heaven except you and your housemaid Mary?”

The old woman pondered the question and then replied, “Well, I’m not so sure of Mary.”

16 thoughts on “One click and you’re history ~ how social media makes us more isolated and intolerant.

  1. Viv, I’m sorry the stars didn’t match up so we could meet. I have to tell you, I think many of your beliefs are NOT the same as mine. But then Andrew Meek is your friend and he and I usually see eye to eye. Yes, the internet allows us to break casual acquaintanceships willy-nilly. But don’t we do that in real life, too? I must be honest, I have ‘unfriended’ people whose beliefs made me uncomfortable (I hasten to say nothing kinky – just stuff I don’t like). But then others who believe stuff I don’t, remain on my friends list. I guess it’s how you ply your beliefs. Catholics don’t knock on my door to try to save my soul. If you see what I mean.


  2. Well said. I agree wholeheartedly with it’s sentiment. What on earth would life be if we all agreed? What I also find increasingly disturbing are those who announce they are blocking and unfollowing people it leaves me wanting to press the same button. People ranting about people not speaking? Is it any wonder? Who wants to converse with people so full of bile and anger. I have many friends from diverse backgrounds with opposing beliefs. We still love each other dearly. There is not enough emotional intelligence on a lot of social media sites. The old adage about engaging your brain before your gob needs to be exercised more!


  3. Thanks for the interesting points that you raise here, Vivienne, most of which I’ve never experienced. I am part of a community of like~minded on~line ‘friends’ and haven’t come across violent disagreements or hostility so far. Other people’s blogposts and comments have challenged my opinions and encouraged me to think differently, though.
    At the moment I am experiencing sorrow that my adult daughter has excluded me from seeing her Facebook posts ~ and thereby the photos and videos she posts of my twin grandsons, whom I rarely see. I’m not sure whether she’s accessing my activity, (I have no objection to that) and I know she hasn’t unfriended me, (as she has in the past) because I can still see when she’s on line.
    I know she has been having a difficult time coping with life events and tragedies over the past five years and I wonder if she’s suffering from delayed post~natal depression (the twins are three.) But she refuses all offers of help and advice by shutting down all communication, so I have to step back at these times and allow her to come back to me, when she’s ready, holding her and the boys in the light, meanwhile.
    So, although I’ve strayed from the conclusions you’ve drawn here, I do appreciate the observations you have made ~ so thank you 🙂


  4. Very well put – and something (as you know) that is timely for both of us.

    Our ‘disposable’ culture certainly has a lot to answer for, not least of which allowing us to believe that feelings don’t matter, that we can walk away from anything and not consider the consequences.

    It’s hard to say what goes through a person’s mind when you can’t express a personal loss. It isn’t like a death in the family or romantic breakup. You were never in the same room together. You may not know what the other person sounds like. It’s true too, though, that we can develop a false sense of intimacy. Just because you feel comfortable enough to share yourself, doesn’t mean the other person sees it that way.

    Some people are just looking for validation, an ego-boost, the ‘love’ they aren’t getting elsewhere. Once they have it, once you’ve ‘played your part,’ the welcome mat is yanked out from under you.

    Having gone through the experience of being used and (most recently), being ‘dumped’ without a reasonable explanation (just a hysterical rant that made no sense and, I suspect, was a bit of act to excuse a premeditated breakup), I’m done with being anything more than a casual acquaintance for anyone (online or off). Too many years of trying to connect, only to realize the person (or persons) I was trying to connect with was only feigning interest is cause enough to just freeze up and fold your feelings away for a good long while.

    Unless the world turns and people come to their senses, appreciating the fact that this is our one and only life and we should treat one another better, be open and communicate honestly, compassionately and without expectation of ‘reward’ or ego-stroking or any other sort of personal benefit.

    Can’t imagine this will be any time soon.


  5. I am still something of an innocent in the social media world..and what I might see as common courtesy, others might see as spam….i simply don’t get why people get quite so aerated that they fight though…that isn’t my modus operandi in the real world, let alone the cyber one.


  6. Very well written. I think, though, that we must be careful about the friends we choose to be with. We must be careful about drawing close to those might harm us. I cannot have that kind of negative energy around me.
    On the other hand, I have been blocked by local media as I questioned what they were saying.


  7. I agree with everything that you say Viv. We all do need to hear opposing views and criticism, and the knee jerk reaction of cutting people off is far to often made. Sometimes though social media is not the place for arguments. I get really cheesed of if I listen to an opposing view and bother to put my side only to be ignored!

    I also find that the closer that I get to people the more flaws that I see. People can be quite irritating at times, and If anyone makes my blood boil I do tend to get as far away from them as I possibly can, especially if rational argument is not possible.

    Sometimes I wish I could become a total hermit!


  8. This should be required reading for anyone starting out on a social network. Or, indeed, anyone who moves and speaks among other people.


  9. Very thoughtful post.
    You are so right about considering the point of view of “the other”.
    This was a lesson I learned a few years ago. I have been extremely environmentally conscious for decades now, and as the damage to our only planet gets critical and still ignored by the masses I found myself becoming incredibly angry at people’s lack of concern…
    Then, I started to really look at the other side, and recognized that people really do the best they can with the information that they have and that my anger will do nothing but screw the quality of my own life. I cannot create change from a place of judgement.
    I haven’t saved the world from climate change, but I have accomplished at least as much as I could have angry, without damaging the quality of my own life.
    I have removed people from my timeline and occasionally, (though rarely) my friend’s list. I do this only when I am repeatedly offended and don’t see any value in continuing to read posts that are a problem to me. It is never a statement about the person, just a statement about what I want and don’t want in my world.
    An example of this would be very well-intentioned people who put up terrible pictures of abused animals. I don’t see how my having nightmares will solve the problem, so I would rather not have those images in my head. I don’t need them to be aware.
    Thank you for this Viv !


  10. I think part of learning to get along is learning how to handle people that you don’t particularly want in your life, that aren’t good for you, and sometimes the solution is just “Don’t hang out with them.” Unfollowing or unfriending or even blocking someone doesn’t mean I want to shoot them in the head with a gun.

    My world isn’t smaller for filtering out people that have a negative impact on me. Subjecting myself to constant bombardment by people that annoy and irritate me negative impacts my life. It’s a distraction; it drains my mental and emotional energy, and my time. It hurts my productivity, it hurts my creativity, it hurts my balance.

    Social media is not the whole world for me. I have a whole world offline, and the internet is much larger than just Twitter and Facebook and blogs. I’m constantly exposed to opinions and ideas that are new. But my social media, I prefer to keep to people I like. It’s not necessary that we always agree, but it’s necessary, I think, that we can respect our differences; there are some opinions and behaviors I can’t respect, and people that exhibit them are not people with whom I want to surround myself.

    I think we’ve discussed this before. I’ve become zealous about controlling who is allowed access to my time and attention, and I refuse to feel guilty because some people think I “owe” them access to me and I deny it. (A follow or a friend is not a social obligation, it’s an introduction.)

    I find your posts on these topics very interesting; this kind of internet social media is so new in how people interact, nobody really knows. I think it’s interesting to watch how people struggle to balance how much of their time, their energy, their attention–of themselves really–they are obligated to give to friends, acquaintances, and strangers on the internet.

    (And I find it interesting that women seem to have a much harder time giving themselves permission to cut off interactions that are, at the very least, not positive or beneficial for them and sometimes even outright harmful.)


  11. I have considered deleting my private FB profile, so I know what you mean. Now I simply ignore different world-views (mostly because I joined a group that wants to bring back the middle ages at our next elections – it’s a humorous group, but some people troll it thinking they’re serious and they really want to bring back the middle ages. It sometimes has great ideas on what worked better in the middle ages everybody thinks were so dark! ;p)… and useless discussions! 🙂


  12. I have cut people out of my life in the real world and in the social media world. Only two were because of their belief structures (they said they believed in hanging people who supported the Conservative party and I could not keep interacting with anyone who advocated violence against anyone by dehumanising them simply because they disagreed with their political persuasion) all the others have been because they stepped past a line of how they behaved towards me and didn’t appreciate the hurt/damage that caused and then didn’t respect me enough to apologise. It was personal and not to do with ideologies or differences of opinion.
    I will always cut people out of my life who do that. I am very tolerant and easy going but if somebody demonstrates clearly they do not respect me and if they treat me with disdain and unpleasantness and unreasonable vindictiveness and then there is no apology or reason for that behaviour then I see no reason to continue socially with them.
    I wouldn’t expect anyone to want to socialise with me if they didn’t respect and like me so I never feel I am being unfair by cutting them. I feel I am doing them a favour by relieving them of a burdensome acquaintance who has been irking them and therefore prompting their bad behaviour.
    So I have a wide and varied collection of real life and online friends but the one thing they all have in common is a willingness to listen to and consider the other side of the argument and an ability to put their side in a reasoned and polite manner.


  13. Inability to agree to disagree seems immature, but it’s so easy to react instantly without greater reflection. I find it helpful to come back to it later. The anonymity of the internet seems to act like disinhibitive alcohol.


    • very true.
      I wish there was a way for people to take a moment to reflect but these days we are encouraged to *speak our minds* at all times and *be true to ourselves* which is all well and good, but at the cost of hurting people by doing so without reflecting on how best to share our opinions.


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