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Social media wars

The introduction of Web 2.0 has provided a platform for the instant interface of millions of people. But it has also created a new kind of culture—the culture of hate. Most cybercitizens are prejudiced against each other. We have become morally judgmental of our fellow human beings. Avatars have replaced the real identities of individuals who are now soaked in a hegemonic online world so defined by an oppressive standard of beauty that maliciously subjugates millions of unknown mortals. The task is simple: to justify putting down potential subalterns, to use Antonio Gramsci’s term, people who are now silenced and marked as “less than human.”

Thomas Hobbes’ “Leviathan” has postulated that the sovereign alone should deliver the promise of political order among self-serving egos. But Hobbes was wrong. In this modern day, the general will has simply turned into a naive abstraction. Without showing any remorse, cyberspace has become the new arena of hate. In their desire to lord it over some imaginary world, online warriors misinterpret their newfound power. They rejoice in their pretentious view of themselves, clad with the total license to destroy other souls, ready to annihilate them all by means of a new weapon—death by absolute embarrassment.

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Our passion for politics has never caved in, but perhaps it is sometimes fueled with the wrong motives. Having fought colonial powers of times past, we have always taken the side of the oppressed. Right now, in the midst of all the turmoil and dangers, our excessive pride, our overly idolatrous convictions, and our misplaced values mean that we can no longer imagine ourselves as one nation. We have not yet experienced the fullest might of online technology. But angry online mobs have developed that form of sophistication that has allowed them to bring their message of hate to a global audience.

Social media has invaded thousands of private lives. But the most glaring revelation there is, rightly or wrongly, is that online technology has enabled anonymous human beings to start insidious wars. Death is everywhere. The city of Aleppo in Syria has become the altar of human sacrifice. A hate-filled post can stir so much indignation, throwing millions of mortals into final combat, and blindly collapsing the moral fabric of society into two poles that Friedrich Nietzsche will welcome with great amusement.

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In “Allegory of the Cave,” Plato speaks about the stark contrast between the ephemeral world of phenomena and the immutable world of ideas. In social media, the young are constantly exposed to the former, which, in “Allegory of the Cave,” are the images that the prisoners see inside some dark underground chamber. For them to be able to see the reality or the world of being, as Plato calls it, they must rise above their present disposition and escape from their fettered existence. Actually, there is no escape. People are already inside the network. In this online world, our sense of right and wrong has been annexed in favor of a secular morality so erroneously defined by the pragmatics of greed and power.

The bigger problem with social media, however, is its incontrovertibly anarchic nature. Its vast power is spiraling out of control. A monster is born. Rightly so, any type of censorship is no more than an infringement of the freedom of expression. Netizens cannot really advocate any state-sponsored form of control, as it directly counters any sincere attempt in democratizing content. But it is still a question of values. In a truly decent society, there exists a basic courtesy in which people respect each other. People do not just hurl invectives against their fellow human beings. But social media has made invectives develop a fashionable sense. For all intents and purposes, while we adults have the freedom to do so, it however sends the wrong signal to millions of young people out there.

We have been taught to respect the opinion of others because any authentic democratic discourse can only thrive in the understanding that people can differ in their views about the world. It is when we agree to disagree that public reason finds its due course. Yet, when there is just one perspective that seems to hold the monopoly of power, the purpose of human communication is fundamentally lost. It makes legitimate dialogue dead without hope of resurrection.

Truth, in the end, suffers. In fact, as Plato once said, “no one is more hated than he who speaks the truth.” But its more injurious consequence is often ignored by a magnificent crowd of spectators who wallow in apathy—thousands of actual people who must bear all the burden of a heartless and unjust society blinded by a false, albeit maniacal, sense of power and glory!

Christopher Ryan Maboloc teaches philosophy at Ateneo de Davao University. He has a master’s degree in applied ethics from Linkoping University in Sweden and the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. His article, “Social Transformation and Online Technology: Situating Herbert Marcuse in the Internet Age,” is forthcoming in the Swedish journal Techne: Research in Philosophy and Technology.

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TAGS: Allegory of the Cave, hate, internet, Leviathan, Plato, politics, social media, Thomas Hobbes
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