Is the raging debate on social media our big, wonderful, messy democracy at work? I think there is hope. Let us all hang in there. Nuance is finding its way in.
Yes, I actually do think the raging debate on social media is our big, wonderful, messy democracy at work. I think the debates on basic issues are starting to have some nuance to them. The nuance entering the debate is the presence of real facts and honest analysis. Almost all of the news outlets (responsible or otherwise) in the world have started posting their content on social media. Social media still has conspiracy theories but next to them are articles from the local TV station or AP with some facts and perspective. The facts have this way of moderating everyone’s positions on almost every topic.
Terrorist attacks are terrible. The news outlets remind us that most hate crimes are committed against people of color or sexual orientation or people of certain religions. They remind us that inner cities are not actually like war zones. In fact, many well to do retirees are moving into condominiums and apartments “downtown”. They remind us that contrary to narrative of the innocence of the good days, crime rates are actually way down since our youth. They remind us that people of faith support religious freedom, even for people of different faiths.
Anytime we read something contrary to our personal opinions, it is in human nature to be defensive. It feels negative and it might even feel like a personal attack. In the short run, we might stiffen our resolve and state our case even stronger, but the facts plant the seeds from which new understanding grows. Just maybe we will take the time to realize that the conspiracy theory you knew to be a fact, was not. Furthermore, just maybe, we will realize the base issues are most often complex with a whole range of pluses and minuses. It takes honest discussion, with real facts, over a period of time to work through to a good policy.
Here is an example. The conspiracy theory that U.S. immigration policy threatens Christianity and our way of life. There are about twice as many Christians in Africa than in the U.S. There are about twice as many Christians in Latin America than in the U.S. There are more Christians in Asia than there are in the US. To think the U.S. is the home of Christianity is to forget the Pope is from Argentina. To think a poor family of seven in small apartment 100 miles from your house represents a threat to your religion and way of life seems like a stretch. In fact, if we want that family to like us maybe we should be nice to them. Immigration policy is complex and nuanced. It matters in all sorts of ways the casual observer might not know. So sure, have an opinion but keep an open mind. It is a much-nuanced sort of thing.
I am not trying to debate social policy in this post. The point is only that real information entering social media discussions helps clarify our perspectives. The fact that real information is trickling into to the online discussions is a very good thing. Those annoying facts may be boring but they actually do have this way of bringing us together rather than ripping us apart.