Why are we so mean on social networks?
I get it: we are the born-free generation and are fully entitled to exercise our parent’s hard-won constitutional rights, one of them being, freedom of speech and expression. My very livelihood rests on this one right so I can never sit in judgement of how other young people choose to express themselves and their opinion, regardless of whether or not I agree with them. Furthermore, I believe that social media is a great space for this expression, in which young people can connect with each other and with the world at large. The internet then presents the opportunity to gain and share new knowledge and have a truly dynamic and enriching relationship with our generation.
However, it is what is done with this freedom that is telling of our values as a young nation. What has always struck me is just how vicious one can be in 140 characters or less, all for the sake of retweets and followers. And the venom is aimed at our elected leaders as it is to our celebrities…and even to you and me. There is so much about social media spaces that can be toxic to anyone really, because the fact that we publicise so much about our lives online means that we are all, in a sense, reality-tv stars, open to whatever appraisal of our personal character that is dished out by the public. It actually reminds me of the anxiety many students in varsity feel whenever they feel the need to raise their hand in a university lecture hall to make a point or ask a question: at all times you are liable to be shamed for the validity, and even basic syntax, of our arguments.
A blogger and dear friend of mine, Sipho Maga, wrote compellingly in his thought-provoking blog Scamto Radar
about the phenomenon of ‘Engrish shaming.’ He defines this as the online surveillance and ridicule of broken English on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. But more than this…
“For me it also reflects the social inequalities in the black South Africa post 1994 that have not only maintained the class system, but are intensifying social divisions amongst black South Africans so that the better blacks are able to laugh scornfully at those who are considered less ‘moneyed’. They are laughing at the ‘other’.”
Notice just how mean Jabu’s online personae That Other Guy is in not only this episode but on his actual Facebook page (go to mutualfriends.co.za to view). Also note people’s response to his disrespect of Thandeka, a girl who faces the shame that Badanile must endure and overcome in this episode. But also notice the irony of Jabu’s shaming when he himself also has his vulnerabilities. And this is the truth about us as students; none of us are perfect, especially as we are trying to gain new knowledge. I hope in watching this episodes we all gain a new sensitivity not only to our special needs, but the needs of others.
Let’s be kind to each other, people. None of us have it easy…