We disagree, therefore I hate you
|October 13, 2011||Posted by Sophy Bot under Internet culture|
Take a look at the comments section of any popular online article and you’ll immediately notice a trend: a lot of commenters seem to hate each other. While the article or post itself may logically present an issue without necessarily taking sides, the comments inevitably contain passionate attacks from one viewpoint or another, all with one thing in common: each fully believes that their view is the correct view, and that anybody who doesn’t understand as much is a complete idiot.
“The only bigotry we’ve got left is: we don’t want to be around anybody who disagrees with us.” – Bill Clinton
When Bill Clinton spoke these words on Tuesday evening during Chicago Ideas Week, he was referring to the fact that America has taken great strides in alleviating its biases based in gender, race and sexual orientation, but at the same time the country has become increasingly polarized along political lines. Truth be told, the polarization extends far beyond political boundaries and into any topic where viewpoints are even remotely divided. Could the internet be to blame? Well, partially.
Step inside of a commenter’s shoes and you’ll be quick to notice that an online argument has little in common with one carried out face-to-face. You can’t see the other person reacting. You don’t get the social cues that tell you when you’ve gone too far. You have time to formulate each response and, without hearing the other person’s enunciation or seeing their facial expressions, your reaction to what they wrote is largely based on your own interpretation. Chances are you’ve never met the person you’re arguing with and probably won’t encounter them again. Even when using real names backed by real profiles, there is a buffer of anonymity that lets you go further with your argument than you ever would with a friend or even a face-to-face stranger.
More than just anonymity, the internet provides solidarity. Whatever your specific viewpoints, you can be sure to find a community of likeminded individuals online. Although you may be sitting alone at your computer, you are backed by nameless dozens (or hundreds, or thousands) who agree with you and what you’re saying. In terms of crowd psychology, this leads you to want to align with and impress fellow group members, even at the cost of (verbally) attacking outsiders. No matter how radical your viewpoint, if you can find others who share it, you feel justified in defending it.
With solidarity propelling us forward and the anonymity of the internet keeping our day-to-day lives safely hidden in reality, there is a complete lack of social repercussions associated with online arguments. You can be as venomous and as forceful as you want. The worst you’ll suffer in return are the hateful remarks of others, or else an outright ban from posting on a particular site or forum. If you choose to ignore these responses and find another site to post on, the repercussions end there. Having a severe argument or fight with somebody in your physical community would bring lasting consequences that you’d have to deal with on an everyday basis. On the internet, there’s no such thing.
The online combination of anonymity, solidarity and lack of social consequences has created a perfect storm. It allows individuals to virtually claw at one another through forums initially designed to encourage friendly conversation. The more we become accustomed to vicious online arguments, the more likely we are to bring them into the real world. That’s not to say that all of us participate in these online fights – in truth, it’s probably a mere minority that does – but that’s also not to deny the fact of their existence. As Clinton noted, we don’t even want to be around others that don’t share our viewpoints. It is time for the internet conversation to evolve. Now that we’ve found others like us, our task is not to attack those who aren’t. Our task is to understand where they come from, and to see how we can all learn from one another. In the immortal words of Rodney King: can’t we all just get along?
Photo credit: misocrazy