As much as we want to believe that social media is an enabler for democratic political processes and spreading of information, there is increasing evidence that the information overload is just creating more divisions than fostering a healthy debate. You are either on the side of the political views or against the views and are subject to bigotry.
In the United States, Trump supporters are labeled as racist, xenophobic, bigoted etc. The latest Post-ABC poll shows 67% voters believe that Democrats are out of touch with concerns of the average person. It is hard to believe that close to 63 million people who voted for Trump condone objectifying women, sexual assaults on women and insulting people for disability or they view all the Mexicans as rapists and every immigrant as terrorist. Trump’s campaign did all of it but all these voters who believed that the liberal agenda did not speak for them voted for him to bring in change that they very much need. On the other hand the right wing branded the liberals as sympathetic to terrorists, anti-American and coastal elites. It is a shame that we can only absorb one word labels today and make our opinions.
It is my view that the social media has in some ways lessened our ability to absorb a particular topic. The constant distractions have programmed our brains to absorb short and bulleted lists that we hold close as our beliefs. This is the reason we no longer want to have a constructive debate but dismiss each other’s views and participate in online hate culture.
This is very much evident in India as well where if you oppose a government policy one is labeled as anti-national and other side is branded as ‘bhakt’. Neither side is ready to see anything that can bring value from the opposition. The concept of Nationalism is getting redefined in 140 characters and a picture. Anything that does not align with someone’s views is met with online abuse and threats. The political class and so called celebrities are using this super charged environment to gain attention and draw unnecessary debates.
A sign of healthy democracy is good debates on issues and course corrections based on facts or people’s wishes. We can’t only be talking to people who already agree with us and dissing everyone else. In most cases very few of us are interested in politics beyond water cooler conversations. There is of course no denial that responsible media that does not promote ideological battles but opens doors into the world that is not our own and promotes tolerance is very much part of the equation. Also, as responsible citizens, we can’t let our opinions be formed by one word labels and short cut stories but it is critical to grasp the issues at large. In the age of likes and ratings, this is hard but necessary as we look to encourage tolerance and address the issues that are important for everyone.