Finally – an excuse to post and laugh at celebrities reading mean tweets! I can laugh at them because they are celebrities reading them and they have lots of money, so I don’t feel as bad about the sexism and hatred spewing out of these random Twitter users. Right?
It’s amazing that this supposed free and open space, The World Wide Web, is often filled with some of the most hateful vitriol that you can find. But, it helps to remember that these words came from a human being that likely existed before the web did (or soon after). These thoughts were not created by the web; they were created by a person at the keyboard. Hence, people are the worst.
It’s important to explore the idea that the web, and also networks, reinforces behaviours that have existed in our society for centuries. Sexism and racism are not new. The medium and speed at which we can share sexism and racism is the change, not the content necessarily. Kadushin notes that, “social network are exclusionary and unfair. Since people tend to associate with others like themselves…the networks that they form tend to be with people who have the same characteristics” (172).
My own Facebook friends help to illustrate this–I am friends (mainly) with other liberal, educated people who are early-to-mid-level in their careers. For the most part, we have similar tastes, opinions and leanings. To be sure, there are people on my feed that I disagree with or find annoying. If they bug me enough though, I unfollow them and reinforce Kadushin’s point I mentioned above.
Kadushin notes Robert Putnam’s definition of social capital as “…participation in political, civic, religious, workplace activities, volunteering and informal networks leads to a culture of social trust and to networks with generalized reciprocity that bridge different groups. This is social capital” (177).
I think a mistake that we make is to think that only “good” people have social capital. Workplace activities, volunteering and informal networks exist among all types of networks. Good, bad and ugly. Like the celebrity tweets above, there is a certain amount of respect that comes from getting their tweet on Kimmel. Like the troll commenter who gains the respect of her troll peers, it exists for all.
So, how do you change it? I don’t know if you can. Like Kadushin says – social networks are the way they are. They were exclusionary before the web (remember the cafeteria, again?) and will be exclusionary after it. I say, stop reading the comments and educate your children about being a respectful human. After all, it’s the humans typing those words.