When I first started using Facebook in 2013, it wasn’t a place people my age were sharing opinions and having discussions. They were posting photos and status updates about what they were doing, and that was really the extent of what Facebook was at the time.
Between then and now, Facebook has grown into this entity that has kept its primary goal of connecting people online, but has shifted the way people use it in order to do so. It’s a source for news, shopping, reviews, and so many other things that have become more convenient from this application.
But that convenience doesn’t come with faults. With the ability to post almost everything you want and at any time of day, Facebook has become a tool for people to share their voice and make their opinions heard. In many ways, that’s liberating. It’s fun to post something you think – be it a “hot take” or something relatable – and receive validation from your peers in the form of likes. It encourages you to keep doing it, and if you’ve received validation from a quick dig or a snarky comment, you might be encouraged to keep going in a way that can be hurtful or offensive to others.
Don’t get me wrong – being able to have an open dialogue with people near and far is a good thing, and it’s great that we all have access to so much information – but the way people have become so comfortable to share their thoughts and feelings on any topic to their Facebook profile has created a toxicity in an online environment.
For example, CTV News Ottawa posts a poll to their Facebook page every day. At the time I’m writing this, the poll question is, “Should a vaccination be required for students aged 12 and older to return to class this fall?”. While it’s a great and valid question, it’s not a question that should be answered with a single yes or no answer. It’s more nuanced than that, and there are points on either side that should be weighed and considered .
Here’s my problem with the poll: It did not present the information needed to form an answer. It has created an environment within its comment section for people to spread inaccurate information, conspiracy theories, and derogatory and offensive language that does not create a productive dialogue in any way.
I had a personal experience with a “troll” in the comment section on CTV Ottawa’s page. It was not regarding an opinion, but it is a good example of the type of environment this section breeds on the simplest of topics. The post was a link to an article about a city counsellor’s leave of absence. It discussed dates the board wanted his return by, compared to the dates he wanted to return by, and the language was not clear as to what the disagreement was. I left a comment, asking someone to clarify. A man responded almost instantly: “Are you stupid?” he had asked. I replied, stating what my confusion was. He responded again calling me an offensive slur I won’t repeat.
The comment I left wasn’t one to be debated over. Yet this man felt comfortable bullying a stranger over it. Luckily, a few other people came to my side and not only answered my question, but also called the man out for being so rude. He then replied saying they must be my friends for defending me.
People have become so confident to post anything online, and it’s not exclusive to Facebook. I use Facebook as an example because it’s such a widely used application among many age groups, but you’ll see this anywhere. An example I will share here was a big news story recently, where Chrissy Teigen apologized for past tweets directed at another person.
This leads me to a question. What’s the solution? If applications monitor speech too closely, that will cause a problem. The precedent has been set, and I don’t know how we come back from that to create an online environment where dialogue can be had productively and respectfully.
Here’s a recent example of a YouTuber who disabled comments due to the negative comments being received regarding his wife’s weight.
Here’s a recent Facebook post by Vice that shows celebrities reading the negative comments received online.