I’m sure we’ve all experienced this at some point in our social media lives: You see an article about an intriguing topic. You may or may not read the article. But then you see that dreaded “Comments” button glaring at you, willing you to click it. You try your damnedest to resist the urge but, ultimately, you give in and almost immediately, you regret it. The comments are riddled with improper spelling and the incorrect usage of there, their, they’re, then, than, your, and you’re. But you can’t decide what’s more annoying – the inability of people to form proper sentences while self-assuredly spewing self-righteous bullshit, or the horrifying content of the comments themselves.
I personally am a big proponent of social media most of the time. I acknowledge its faults, such as its extreme distractibility factor and its ability to make you feel horrible about your life compared to some people’s perfectly crafted, shiny social media existences. But I also recognize that it has served to connect people and spark friendships and relationships. I definitely would not know a thing about my uncle or cousins in Spain without the power of Facebook and I probably wouldn’t have had the opportunity to meet some of the most amazing, inspiring people I know. But what it has also done is provide people with a platform — anyone and everyone — to voice their opinions and say whatever pops into their heads, regardless of what those opinions may be. This can either be a very wonderful and powerful thing, or a very damaging and toxic thing, depending on the situation.
On the plus side, I love that I’m able to read articles and comments by people who may have a different perspective on something (stated in a respectful and knowledgeable manner), potentially challenging my thought process, opening my eyes, and allowing me to expand my view accordingly (WARNING: You must be willing to have an open mind in order to utilize this benefit). I also love that I can read the stories of people online who have been given the chance to open up and be honest about their struggles as well as their triumphs. Knowing that you’re not alone in certain situations and seeing how others effectively work through stressors can be extremely helpful and comforting, and I’ve found that social media is actually a great place for this. In some rare instances, you may even see people on social media encouraging and uplifting others, restoring our faith in humanity even for just a few minutes. And of course, above all, freedom of speech is a beautiful and immensely important thing.
However, the horror of the comments sections and all of these opinions and words recklessly strewn across the social media spectrum is that many of these comments are full of hatred, ignorance, intolerance, and malicious, unrestrained ridicule. Yes, people are entitled to even the most hateful, ignorant, and intolerant opinions, and they’re even entitled to voicing those opinions if they want to. But the danger of social media is that it almost encourages this behavior at times.
Go to Fox News’ Facebook page and read the comments on just about any post. Someone can write a comment about nuking the entire Middle East, knowing full well that they’re playing into the fantasies of the primary audience that will see their comment, and predictably get thousands of likes, validating and supporting a sentiment that is incredibly heinous and problematic. This gives these people the illusion that they are truly knowledgeable and even enlightened, giving them the confidence to continue to spread their vitriol. Many people even write triggering and offensive statements strictly for the shock factor, attention, and likes. Do it for the likes!
Someone may be harboring an awful thought in their mind but not have the audacity to voice it until they see other people endorsing the same view (and you can find support for literally anything on the Internet). This allows the normalization of malignant sentiments in our society that otherwise may not have a platform. People can write things that are utterly, undeniably false and have equally ignorant people applauding and supporting them with one simple click. You can try to educate these individuals with proven, indisputable facts, but they will be so high off of the likes and the sound of themselves typing away that they won’t hear a word of what you say. For the sake of being honest, I admit that I am one of those people who can’t resist arguing with ignorant people in comments sections when I’m bored, knowing full well that I am powerless to change their minds. I can’t help it. It’s a curse.
This morning, I went on Facebook for my morning dose of people-watching, and one of the first things I saw was a Buzzfeed article with a beautiful picture of Nura Afia, the Muslim, hijab-clad beauty blogger who was just announced to become the first hijabi CoverGirl. So of course, I read the article, scrolled through her pictures, ooh-ed and aw-ed about her on-point makeup skills, thought about how CoverGirl was kind of cheating by making a Middle Eastern girl the beauty ambassador for a new mascara because her eyelashes are probably already amazing without mascara, and then… I had that dreaded moment I talked about earlier. Before I could think about what I was doing, my pesky finger was clicking that terrifying “Comments” button. To be fair, I knew exactly what I was in for.
You can try to educate these individuals with proven, indisputable facts, but they will be so high off of the likes and the sound of themselves typing away that they won’t hear a word of what you say.
There were three types of comments on this article:
- The people commenting on how beautiful she is, how well deserved the position is, and what a great move it was by CoverGirl.
- A few Muslim online self-proclaimed sheikhs and sheikhas criticizing her for “not being a true representation of Islam or hijab” because she wears so much makeup (these are my personal favorite).
- Those who have never been to a Muslim country, likely do not know anyone Muslim, and whose research arsenal about Islam and Muslims likely consists of Fox News and Donald Trump’s Twitter feed.
This wonderful latter group is split mainly into two categories: The first is men and/or people who binge-watch and applaud Tomi Lahren videos all day while ranting about the good old days before the advent of that terrifying concept of “political correctness” i.e. respecting others. And the second is the white feminists who pride themselves on their plans to vote for Hillary Clinton while simultaneously tearing down other women and telling them how to live their lives and how to dress, not recognizing how incredibly offensive and anti-feminist it is to tell a successful woman that she’s actually oppressed but not smart enough to realize it.
Both groups very confidently and matter-of-factly state how oppressive and horrifying the hijab is, how terrible it is to be a woman in the Middle East, and how this girl would most definitely be killed if she went “back there” (although I’m not totally sure which of the 50 Muslim-majority countries in the world “there” is). These comments are met with evidence to the contrary from several women who have lived in/visited Muslim countries, many of whom are Muslim themselves and speak from personal experience. But of course, the sanctimonious Internet Keyboard Warrior, too comfortable on his/her high horse, is notoriously immune to facts and sensibility. Obviously, a Muslim woman testifying to her own life experiences cannot possibly hold as much weight as someone who has had zero contact with this demographic, sitting in his parents’ basement eating mac and cheese at noon and spewing unsolicited and baseless judgment and venom on the Internet. “I got 200 likes on my comment, so obviously I’m right, and I’m going to keep going despite all of these people using facts and personal testimonies to tell me that I’m wrong.” Ah, there’s nothing better about being a Muslim woman today than having people on the Internet adamantly proclaim that they understand your life better than you do.
Mind you, this doesn’t even just happen with seemingly controversial topics. I often wonder to myself – have humans always been so belligerent or has this vast new platform, cloaked in relative anonymity, allowed the vitriol to take free rein? You can go to the comments section on a music video or a laughing baby or a trouble-making cat and find people arguing and spewing hurtful words at one another. I’m still struggling to understand how in the world something as seemingly benign as a recipe for a “bagel boat” is able to conjure up such anger and strong negative emotions from people? You can watch a makeup tutorial about someone’s “Go-To Gray Smokey Eye” and see people launching very unnecessary and very personal attacks, telling the makeup artist that her eyebrow shape is terrible, that she’s wearing too much makeup (uh, you know this is a makeup tutorial, right?), that her nose is crooked, that she looks disgusting without makeup, that they don’t like her nail polish color, that her voice is annoying. What makes people think it’s OK for them to say these things which they most likely would not say to someone’s face?
And what’s even more interesting to me is that people seem to feel this need to type out whatever is on their mind, regardless of how hurtful or negative it may be. Has the saying, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all” gone completely out the window? Does it make you feel super cool and tough and funny to say mean things on the Internet, completely ignoring the fact that people probably will see your comments and be hurt, but also knowing full well that you probably will not be forced to take responsibility for your words? Is it because there is so little accountability for what we say behind the protective gleam of our computer and/or smartphone screens? You can tell someone they’re ugly or stupid or worthless on the Internet without having to muster up the courage to be so cruel to their face. Is it really necessary for you to tell someone that their boyfriend is ugly or that you don’t like the painting on their wall? I have some news for you, friend: Your words do have the ability to hurt people, even if you don’t care, and even if that is your intent for some sick, twisted reason, but rest assured that no one actually cares about your rude, useless opinion.
Technology and social media seem to have very suddenly come upon us and become a huge part of our world. Maybe some people are still struggling with how to navigate the waters of this new, huge platform and an international community that is now very much connected through the Internet. I know that our world will always be riddled with uneducated, bigoted people who have too much time on their hands and a blatant disregard for silly things like respect and virtue. And it’s a reality that the Internet provides these people with 3 very dangerous tools: a supportive audience, a lack of accountability, and an opportunity to appease their low self-esteems by intentionally offending people all over the world and calling it “honesty”. However, I think it needs to continue to be reiterated that, although there are somewhat different rules in this new cyber-world of ours, the rules of basic human decency should still stand, even in the imprudent realm of the comments section.