How Social Media Fosters Communities of Hate
This past week, while packed with excitement as we approach the midterm elections, has unfortunately also included a national overcast of divisiveness because of tragedies like the Pittsburgh shooter and the pipe bomber.
It doesn’t take a political analyst to parallel the overarching similarities between the two tragedies, but we’ll still break it down for you. Both incidents involved perpetrators who spent lots of time reading and posting hateful rhetoric on the internet. Now, this may not be surprising, considering there’s always an influx of hate to be found on the Internet, as well as a significant “us-against-them” mentality reflected in many posts. However, the fact that the things we read on social media can lead to real life violence is alarming to say the least.
So when did social media become such a dangerous weapon? Some argue that while both sides participate in Internet assaults, the trend in creating a hateful and exclusionary political atmosphere has largely been fostered by the president-- a man known for his offensive words. In fact, Trump’s demeanor has even been thought to increase disunity and potentially empower and encourage people like the pipe bomber and Pittsburgh shooter using the increasingly tense political climate.
It’s also not surprising to know that what we see online is a reflection of what goes on in our day to day lives. For instance, the increase in this hostile Internet atmosphere directly mirrors the divisive political climate in our country. Studies also show that between 2016 and 2017, there was a 57% increase in anti-semitic incidents, a possible reflection of the kind of political climate currently perpetuated online.
If you ask us, President Trump has not done enough to denounce these kinds of hateful acts, as many may remember him calling the Charlottesville white supremacist marchers “fine people” last year. By not immediately denouncing this kind of behavior (and actually choosing to dismiss it), he further allows and encourages these acts of hate.
The pipe bomber was heavily active on Facebook, and even lived out of a van covered with right-wing extremist stickers that promoted exclusionary tactics and showed support for Trump. And while support of Trump doesn’t necessarily make for a dangerous person, according to Fortune, he also shared a post that said, “Open your eyes! It’s the filthy EVIL jews bringing the filthy EVIL Muslims into the country!!” on Gab, a social media site particularly popular among white nationalists. Did someone say red flag?
Admittedly, many of us are also guilty of going on social media and looking for viewpoints that agree with our own (although hopefully they aren’t as vile as this guy’s). However, this type of behavior can put us into “echo-chambers” that make us ignorant to other viewpoints and perspectives, and can foster increasing mindsets of racism, sexism, etc. Basically, it’s time to stop exclusively looking for content that supports and confirms our own views without any logic or evidence. White nationalists are no strangers to this phenomenon, and have managed to use it to promote a climate of division and anger. If we let this continue, we can only expect more hate crimes like the ones we’ve seen this past week.
We cannot afford to close ourselves off to other perspectives, even if they challenge our preconceived thoughts and notions. This not only promotes an environment of conflict over cooperation, but a dangerous loop of self-confirmation which inhibits individual and societal growth. While the Internet has the ability to cause good change, with increasing susceptibility to “echo chambers,” it also has the potential to disseminate hate and encourage violent and extremist views. Choose wisely.