By Erin Delaney ‘20
Recent United States political events, specifically the election and the inauguration of Donald Trump as the 45th president of the United States, have pegged current US citizens as the most politically polarized in recent history.
This polarization, while it has manifested itself in protests and counter-protests, is arguably most visible on social media platforms such as Facebook, where individuals can share their thoughts and opinions with a network of people they may have never met.
Opinions regarding social media discourse are as varied as the opinions represented by those who engage in it. Some feel that debating an issue in the comments of a Facebook post is too impersonal, while others think that it can be an effective way to educate one’s peers on a controversial topic.
Scripps first-year Jamie Haughton feels that discourse starts as “an attempt to educate the other person, which is okay and even beneficial” for understanding varying viewpoints and educating one’s peers, she believes that internet conversations are not the most effective way to conduct discourse. “The best [form of communication] is face-to-face, because you can see how what you are saying is affecting the other person,” she stated.
Leah Nadir, (SCR ‘20) agreed with her friend. “I think a lot of things get lost over text [...] you’re not going to know what the other person is actually saying, or what they are feeling when they write,” she said. “That’s the danger of [social media discourse].
Leah did acknowledge that websites such as Facebook may be effective places to speak one’s mind. “I never engage [...] but it can be a good platform for you to express your opinions,” she said.
“Writing [a comment on a Facebook post] Can be cathartic.”
Claudia Hernandez (SCR 18) expressed the difficulties of conducting an effective conversation over the internet. “I think it’s tricky to know when it is appropriate to engage someone who is expressing their beliefs and values. [...]
Facebook discourse has the potential to open a dialogue, but once a party becomes too angry [...] it becomes impossible to argue with logic,” she said. “We should be tough on the issue but soft on the person.”
While she expressed caution regarding how discourse over the internet should be approached, Claudia also acknowledged that this type of discourse is not obsolete. Claudia stated, “I [engage in] discourse if I feel that I need to defend my beliefs or provide new insight.”
Scripps sophomore Elizabeth Murphy also believes that there is a place for discourse on the internet, but in her eyes, this form of debate is essential. “For me, how I engage relates [...] to my personal positionality and the identities that I hold, but also how it relates to the social justice and allyship that I try and practice.”
Elizabeth believes that part of her responsibility as an ally is to acknowledge that internet discourse is “emotional labor that oftentimes people in oppressed groups are expected to do, without acknowledgment that it is actual labor. [...] “Sometimes people [in oppressed communities] are misconstrued as a result of things like tone policing when they are [...] responding to comments that hurt them.”
Elizabeth believes that, while internet discourse can often turn ugly, it opens up conversations that would not otherwise occur. “Oftentimes what starts out as a conversation that could be really fertile ground and room for people to understand [...] things just becomes an insult smackdown. [...] Talking in person is better, but a lot of the topics that are brought up on the internet are things that would never be brought up [face-to-face],” she said.
While she acknowledges that many conversations and discourses conducted via the internet may be devalued, Elizabeth stated that “The internet is not just the internet anymore. The internet is an academic space, it is a social justice space, and it is a space of connection and continuing conversation.”
Jamie Haughton also emphasized the value internet community at the Claremont Colleges as an educational space, stating that witnessing the discourses held there has been a valuable learning experience.
“We’re all educating each other [on our experiences]. I think just in the few months I’ve been in Claremont, I’ve learned a lot [...] about how to talk about certain things [...] and about what groups of people I should be more aware of and trying to consciously include,” she stated.
When both parties are receptive, internet discourse can be positive, or even educational. Whether one views internet discourse as essential or abrasive, one thing is certain: it is not going anywhere.