What I’m Thinking: Social Media Democracy and the Power to Judge

Tee shirt | jeans | loafers | sunnies

Comment. It’s an interesting word- as an English teacher, I teach my students to look for “connotations” of words- meaning the “feeling” (positive, negative, sometimes neutral) that a word gives off; kind of like it’s “vibe”. What connotation would you say that the word “comment” has?

Pretty negative, no?

Before the age of social media, the word “comment” seemed pretty much relegated to social situations where people were sharing unsolicited opinions about someone or something. The actual definition of a “comment” is “a written or verbal expression of opinion or reaction”. More times then not, when someone shares an opinion or reaction, it’s critical ( or else it would be called a “compliment”, right?). The idea of commenting on people, places, occurrences and experiences is nothing new- but since social media has become the all-powerful democratizing platform for expression, “commenting” is so much more PERMANENT, VISIBLE, and relentless.

Before social media and the internet, if you wanted to “comment” on something, you had fewer, less appealing options that required either more work or less impact:

1. to get out a pen and paper and write that sh*t down, seek out an envelope and stamp and walk yourself to the nearest mailbox to mail said comment to the desired recipient- chances are you had to REALLY want to comment on something in order to take all of these steps- so maybe that coffee you had at the overpriced cafe wasn’t so bad after all…

2. Just say it out loud, either to the present company, who either agreed or disagreed, then you not moved on, or mutter it under your breath to yourself, in which case the comment went nowhere really other than to let off whatever steam you had brewing over that less than satisfactory cup of overpriced coffee.

Fast forward 20 years…

Now, it’s way too easy. Had a bad cup of coffee? Anyone and their grandma who has Instagram or Facebook can publicly criticize that less than stellar cup of overpriced coffee in a very (semi; sure people can delete comments but people can’t unsee them!) permanent, rapidly spreading way with absolutely NO restrictions!!! ANYONE CAN SAY ANYTHING THEY WANT.

The coffee analogy is a tame subject to illustrate my point- we’ve all seen social media comments that WOULD NEVER and COULD NEVER have been made, let alone given attention years ago, aimed at other human beings’ physical attributes, political opinions, careers, upbringings, cultures- an endless barrage of opinions and reactions.

Most would argue, myself included, that democracy, in terms of giving “the people” a voice, is a positive thing. Humans across all cultures and time periods have fought and sacrificed so that they could have “a voice”.


Where does having a voice end, and commenting just because you CAN begin?

What are the consequences for us ALL having the constant ability to hit “like” and “comment”, with such ease and purposeless? What is it doing to our societal expectations, to our individual psyches and to our relationships with each other?

Just because you have an opinion or reaction to someone or something, does that mean that we have to or even SHOULD share it?

Imagine 20 years ago, flipping through the pages of a magazine or watching actual TV or a movie, and coming across a model, advertisement, commercial, actress or actor or product that you had an (probably negative, bc after all, we love criticizing what we can’t attain for ourselves) opinion or reaction to- what could you do?! Yell at the magazine?! Scream at the TV?! Chances are that you were not going to write them a letter expressing how you didn’t like their hairstyle or politics- you just muttered to yourself or “commented” to your present company. And the negative thought died there in that moment.

My mom, who is now close to 70, actually inspired me to write this post. She’s made the the observation more than a few times that “people nowadays” feel like they constantly have a “right” to express their opinion- whereas “back in the day” people knew when and what to keep to themselves. She believes it made for a more pleasant society— and while I do absolutely acknowledge that society back then was more repressed, and the opinions of all people were definitely NOT acknowledged or respected or dammit even HEARD- I do feel like power to “comment” and “like” has given us a weird sense of entitlement to constantly be judge and jury of every. Single. Encounter.

***so at this point, I had originally stopped writing and had my husband, Tim, read over what I had so far***

His feedback included:

“Don’t you see the irony in that YOU and your blog are part of the comment culture- just writing this post is a comment in itself”

“Why do you always glorify the past as if it was a better time? You have to change and move with the times instead of getting angry about “how things are now.”

To be completely honest, his feedback hurt. I had to process what he said and really think about if I even still wanted to hit publish on this post- AM I being hypocritical by writing this? Or being old fashioned and angry at the changing times?

I tried to get to the heart of what I was originally trying to say in this post.

I suppose it’s not that I think we should all silence and censor ourselves and each other— social Media really has empowered so many groups and individuals that otherwise would have no platform to express themselves. Tim is right- The ability to comment and voice our opinions has helped shape everything from political and social movements to fashion trends.

Maybe what I mean is that we should perhaps use caution when commenting- to try and not forget that just because it’s easy, doesn’t mean it’s to be taken lightly. Maybe a good rule to live by is to comment online only what you would say out loud. And maybe to remember that just because you can easily show approval or disapproval in the digital space, doesn’t mean that that constant and instant level of judgement needs to transfer to “real life” encounters as well.

This post isn’t ending in a comfortable place- and I’m actually ok with that. After all, some aspects of life just remain unresolved, and that’s alright. There’s no conclusion, and as Tim clearly reminded me, I definitely don’t have the answers- actually, I’m leaving this post with more questions than I started out with. To add to the irony, if actually live if you guys would leave a COMMENT (!) , share or discuss this idea with me- positive, negative or neutral reactions are welcome!