Dichotomous Digital Discourse: Benefits and Drawbacks to Intense ‘Comments Section’ Political Arguments

The scene is set: a political meme is posted on Facebook. One by one, depending on the following of the original poster, an influx of commentary dings through notifications like church bells resounding in vacuous space to the unfortunate person who made the mistake of ‘liking’ or ‘reacting’ to some of the more innocuous and objectively less-pointed posts (tonight, that fool was me). And they’re off! – cloaked by the comfortable invisibility afforded by the anonymity of personal digital media platforms, fearless crusaders rush to the battleground of commentary, asserting their righteous and free original thinking, even to those who clearly will not have their minds changed regardless of the input of the commenter, and even to those with neither educated nor productive input. The newer slogan, “thou shalt not read the comments section”, whispers in your mind’s ear as your mind’s eye imagines the digital fallout. But defiant as you are, clicking “view previous comments” and reading with impunity and sometimes amusement, I stand to assert the benefit in so doing (beyond any placation of a guilty pleasure).
The use of rhetoric as a tool to augment the fluidity of human communication is an ageless component of “the march of intellect”. However, the value of the ideologies behind this rhetoric is appropriated by the level of critical thought invested in the statements being made. And just like that, another old adage “think before you speak” comes back to simplify things, just like Grandma said.

 

While it certainly is an arguable possibility that there are some who may refute the value of this saying and claim its benefits are only applicable in an historic context and are only applicable now to certain exercises aimed at explosive verbal expressionism (for a creatively imagined purpose and my own amusement, I imagine an example as being related to some strange, incredibly unproductive and financially wasteful business retreat), or to truly speaking with the uninhibited luxury of unfiltered digital discourse, the implementation of free-flowing verbal diarrhea as a tool with which to combat politically-aimed, often-public tirades with foundations based in part or in whole on subjectivity and social criticism are a paradox in that they are entirely unproductive to the advancement of the values we seek to defend in so doing.

 

It is arguable that the investment of this time-consuming (elapsing sometimes over the course of several hours) and frustrating, furiously-typed endeavor is aimed at perhaps changing a heart, or a mind – but there are sensory subtleties in digital media more effectively conveyed through interpersonal communication. Body language, syllabic inflection, eye contact, and any other sensory input which so critically contributes to contextualizing human communication even across languages and medical deficits to senses – are so critically connected to this ability that we risk our communal, digital failure to clearly ‘see’ their obvious facilitating contributions in the absence of them imposed by a digital interface.

 

This confluence of side effects cements its use as a venue for productive conversations, particularly political ones, only when restricted to discussion in a community which respects timeless principles of political decorum and educated discussion. Conversely to this old standard, it is no secret that the comments section of any social networking site is colloquially regarded as a vicious and ‘no-rules’ place where hits below the belt abound.
While digital media is certainly a culturally-valid and socially useful platform for connecting political constituents of multiple demographics to candidates, news, and one another, sources, media, and connections are all-too-infrequently considered in-context. Digital media is a venue for the distribution of propaganda and uninformed diatribes when managed poorly, and conversely, when managed correctly in an appropriate context, can be an indispensable venue for productive conversation. This dichotomy echoes the relationships we share “irl” (I am not as detached from digital discourse as my arcane and florid prose may suggest).

 

The value of a great leader (in my view, a leader who used or uses their power in ways which were or are beneficial to the progression of humankind’s better qualities) is universally determined by their ability to listen. This skill, while not a greatly satisfying process at times when one may be in unbearably passionate disagreement with the opposition’s assertions, provides more contextual basis, more time for forethought, more patience training, and more information from which to learn. By practicing this skill, we the people are practising empathy. By reading the comments section as a silent participant observing our world in a safe place, we are becoming good leaders – and good learners.

 

‘We the people’, in exercising this skill, are practising and protecting informed, wordly, and robust democratic exchange as global citizens rather than party members or stereotype. Each of us bears the gift and responsibility entreated to us at birth to represent the values we feel we must protect so vehemently with grace and decorum if for no other reason than to someday reach a point where our capacities speak to those who will listen just as we have listened to others.

 

Then and only then, will we encourage the respectful reception of our own ideologies and present ourselves as capable representatives of humanity with strong basis in the foundation of our politico-social beliefs.

 

While we are bound to see and be upset by uninformed political discourse dissimilar to our own which directly contradicts what the totality of our experience concludes to be ‘right’(especially in times of a volatile political playground), restraining our childish compulsions to engage vehemently and enthusiastically in digital shouting matches which beget no more sound than the clicking of the keyboard or the tapping on a screen… will often be thought of as such by the opposition to which you pour your heart out. Wasted efforts on closed hearts and minds unreceptive to listening.

 

As constituents not only of a government body, but of the world it truly belongs to, our responsibility to the future of the world we inhabit is that each and every one of us fight for what we believe in, which, contrived as it may sound, is the fragile chalice in which our futures and the futures of future generations are held. The brain, like a muscle, is very much a “use it or lose it” organ. Its abilities are determined almost exclusively by the time and nurturance one is able or willing to afford it. Practising its more altruistically emblematic capabilities – like listening, learning, and participating in productive human interaction to convey complex and sensitive political ideologies – will make it function better.

 

So if you find your passion in defending what you believe in – if what makes you angry is injustice to what you feel is an obviously-overlooked element of your daily life or the lives of others in your community, global or otherwise – if what makes you happy is seeing these ideas discussed for the benefit of the world… or if you happen to care for the advancement of critical thought in any capacity, regardless of your demographic… then it is your responsibility to control your impulses and apply the free time you otherwise may have spent upon the tactful castigation of a random Facebook user’s equally useless digitial soapbox assertions.

 

This is time you could spend practising the patience of listening by reading through arguments you view as uninformed and attempting to silently, saliently, and anonymously learn from the experience. And if you simply can’t stand the thought of passively viewing the comments section, it has been the experience of many of the world’s most well-liked leaders across many disciplines and demographics – political, social, and religious – that there might just be greater benefit to reading a book instead.

 

With privacy settings, anonymously reporting services, and intellectual property rights ever-expanding on many leading social media platforms, jumping in as “defense” for the choice of another to engage in digital ‘warfare’ is an exercise as descriptive of productive, tactical political thought as children leaving inexpensive plastic army figurines to melt, forgotten, under the blistering heat of selfishly, indulgently wasted time. At times when we are witness to history’s transgression of our most basic expectations, we will all be characterized in history books, depersonalized by the march of time, but more identifiable by the digital nature of contemporary classrooms and the plethora of resources which aid in visibility. But the march of intellect will continue, and some of us will be participants in the distribution of propaganda… where others may do something to address the injustices they see in the world. The senses which we use in classic communication (if we are fortunate enough to possess them) are still present in the digital community, but their internal receipt and processing by our minds is contingent upon the ability not to hear, but to listen.

 

So now I too will step off the soapbox, and get back to writing my research paper…

Right after I check that post one more time.

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Caroline C. Evans Abbott

I am a rising Master of Research (M.Res) English Literature candidate at the University of Glasgow (expected 2017), an incoming MFA Writing candidate at Sarah Lawrence College (expected 2019), and a recent Honors Program graduate of the B.A. Studio Art program at Albertus Magnus College in New Haven, Connecticut (2015). From 2015 - 2016, I served as an English, Writing, and Creative Enrichment Tutor for the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation, a Native American Reservation in Brooks, California, and from 2014 - 2015 as a Writing Associate (Tutor) in the Albertus Magnus College Writing Center. I am a Writer and Photographer for The Glasgow Guardian, and am class representative for M.Res English Literature students on the Student Staff Liaison Committee (SSLC) and Students' Representative Council (SRC). This year, I look forward to writing, photographing my perspective on our world, exploring Europe, and pursuing further academic and professional opportunity.

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