As a space in which all the differences, variations and interactions within our world can make themselves evident, social media can only play a positive role in society. The virtual world can provide a freedom which is too often denied to many millions of people in the real world. Social media is the ultimate champion of freedom of expression and is the hallmark of generation Y.
Or is it?
A recent and heated debate between the Feminist society and the library Spotted page at my university, provoked me to question the limitations of the value of freedom of expression in our shared virtual world. Has freedom of expression become harmful to societal progression, and if so how?
Spotted is an intriguing phenomenon which acts as a kind of snapshot of the role social media is currently playing in our society. It can demonstrate the positive aspects of virtual interaction: the communication of useful information, the exchange of friendly compliments, and even the sparking of romances. However, it also demonstrates how generation Y are as much the perpetrators of gender, racial, and social discrimination as generation A were.
I would argue that discrimination has barely been touched upon as an issue in our society; it has, in fact, simply changed location. I’m not saying things haven’t changed for the better in the real world, which is perhaps what matters. What I’m saying is that the virtual world provides the perfect forum to fuel the prejudicial opinions, which are the foundation of discriminatory actions in our societies.
Just because discrimination has become more nuanced and less noticeable on the street, in the workplace, and at home, doesn’t mean it’s not there. The internet has provided a space for the outspoken, yet often anonymous, racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, and all the other forms of discrimination which were rife on the streets in decades past. This change in location has not resulted in a decrease in discrimination in the real world, it has simply allowed it to become much more insidious.
But what I find most worrying about online freedom of expression, is the backlash towards those who are attempting to counter its harmful effects. I believe in freedom of expression and am incredibly grateful that I live in a country which respects this right. I therefore resent being told that I am squashing such freedoms, when I red flag a post or comment for its blatant demonstration of prejudice and discrimination. Too many people are being taken in by the necessity of freedom of expression in our virtual world as justification for discrimination.
I believe in freedom of expression. You’re free to be a virtual and/or real perpetrator of discrimination of you want to be. But next time don’t red flag me just for calling you out. I am as free as you are to argue that my opinions are right, which they are, because discrimination is always wrong.