As I participate in Social Media, I watch people interact. I observe behavior, sometimes predictable, sometimes shocking and sometimes downright hilarious.
But the recent issues surrounding Facebooks policy on free speech made one thing clear - Social Media can be anti-social. It can be used to bring tribes together or tear people apart.
Teenage bullying on MySpace, antisemitism on Facebook, blogs promoting racism and other Hate 2.0 sites are proliferating. The Simon Wiesenthal Center released a report last week that says online terror and hate is on the rise, particularly on social-media sites. The number of sites they identified is around 8000, a 30% increase from last year. Caroline McCarthy reports “In addition to religious terror groups, the sites identified also pertain to anti-Semitic, racist, xenophobic, and various anti-religion and anti-government sentiments. And social media is a particular concern, with games, Facebook groups, and Second Life having been identified as potential communication and event-planning tools for terrorist and hate groups.”
All of this seems to point to a disturbing potential trend: the use of Social Media to encourage hate and ostracism, perhaps even violence. Instead of bringing people together based on beneficial common values, the promoted values are divisive, us vs. them. “You don't believe what I believe so I will harass, bully, harangue, insult and degrade you or worse.”
But what happens when this Hate 2.0 leaves the virtual world and invades our street corners? Are we giving people who would preach anti-social messages an easy way to gather and communicate and proliferate? Are we giving them a better faster way to organize violent actions? Is Social Media becoming a tool of war?
Perhaps Social Media can do one great thing. It can help us see ourselves, our behavior, in a greater context. It can reflect our ability to accept and tolerate the differences while celebrating the commonalities. It can help us see ourselves in the context of the whole. True perspective is one of the greatest gifts you can receive.
Social Media may be a path to greater self governance. There is opportunity in debating opposing views. It comes in the form of really having to listen to the view from “the other side” in order to make a poignant, effective argument. Debaters may find that they cannot change each others views, but they may develop respect for their opponent in the process. And a healthy dose of respect puts an end to violence - verbal, emotional, spiritual or physical.
Clearly, we as a society have found value in Social Media. The implications and ramifications of all the new interaction will unfold as time marches on. The question remains will Social Media change us? Will it drive new social behavior or simply reflect what we already are?