Sunday, April 28, 2013

Opinions in the age of the internet

by: Joelle Charbonneau

Ok.  Perhaps this isn't the best post for me to write, but I've been thinking about this topic for a while and I finally decided to give it a whirl.  Here goes.

I think the internet is great.  I love social media because I get to reconnect with people that I haven't seen in years, look at family photos and effortlessly connect with friends old and new.  YAY!  However, the age of the internet has also created something a little frightening to me.  A lack of civility.

More times that I can count, I've witnessed the posting of a picture that a FB friend wanted to share (political, religious, a happy quote that means something to them) which lead to belittling or berating comments.  And the posting of a personal political or religious comment - no matter how positive - more often than not opens a can of worms that includes unkind words and attacks.

And, of course, this behavior doesn't end on Facebook or Twitter.  Take a look at the comments on any online news article and watch the lack of civility that appears.  There is no filter.  Trust me, I love the first amendment and believe that we all should have the right to free speech as well as freedom of religion and freedom of the press.  But when did it become okay to disrespect someone else's opinion?

I've seen this same disrespect extended to reviews on products, restaurants, movies, music, plays and books.  And wow, does it shock me every time.  Not that I think that everyone should like everything.  I boring would the world be if that was true.  I mean - honestly - that would be duller than dull.   It's not the opinion I have a problem with.  I don't like everything I read, watch, or experience.  But it's the tone in which the opinion is expressed that has the power to me cringe.  These days book, movie and other entertainment reviews are strewn with personal attacks.  If a book or movie isn't to your liking - say that - but don't tell the author or director or actor that they are stupid or are ruining the world as we know it.  (Trust me - authors, actors and directors really aren't that powerful.)  Personally, I go with the rule that I shouldn't say something online that I wouldn't say directly to someone's face because while there is a screen between me and whoever I'm talking to - there is another living, breathing person with feelings on the other side of the communication.  Right?

And perhaps even worse to me are the times where someone respectfully expresses their opinion and then gets attacked by the defenders of whatever book, movie, restaurant or product the comment centers around.  How is that okay?

Look, in my life, I have chosen to be an actor, a singer and a writer.  I get reviewed all the time and  my reviews have ranged from glowing to scathing.  That's the business.  (In fact, the negative reviews are often easier for me to read than the glowing ones.  How crazy am I?)  But it is more than reviews than I am talking about.  It's the method in which we discuss information and ideas.  I love debate and an exchange of contradicting or conflicting thoughts.  To me, respectful debate is the best way to learn and think of problem or concept in a new way.  But the key word is respectful.

We all have opinions.  We all have the same rights to express them.  But when you are doing so - think about how you would feel if you were the recipient of the Facebook comment you are about to type.  The internet is a great place that brings us together in wonderful ways--expect for the times it allows us to tear ourselves apart.  I'm hoping that someday more people remember to be respectful so that we can have wonderful debates and and exchange of ideas that makes us all better.


seana graham said...

A thoughtful post. It reminds me of a NYT piece I recently read about the distorting effect of uncivil comments.

That said, though, all of the blogs I read are almost entirely civil in the commentary. Every once in awhile you'll get some lout, but they usually don't last long. I rarely read the comments for newspaper articles because it makes me think I'm living in a world full of crazy people.

Anonymous said...

Something you said really stuck out to me. It was your comment about the first amendment protecting freedom of speech. What's interesting is that, looking at it from different legal philosophies, there are a number of people who believe we abuse this to be unnecessarily caustic. I live and write with a simple rule: only say what I would be fine with saying on a megaphone to the world with an audience including my grandmother. I think your main point, civil debate and reviews needing to be more prevalent, is absolutely right. Nice post.