SOCIAL media has not only given everyone a platform to voice out their opinions, but it has also led many individuals to believe that it is acceptable to offend and disparage others just because you can.
Dr Murni Wan Mohd Nor, a senior lecturer of human rights and political science in Universiti Putra Malaysia, said: “We must bear in mind that speech is a right that comes with responsibilities. We should not be encouraged to say whatever we can, despite the effects it may cause.
“We should place upon ourselves the duty of acting responsibly in whatever we say and do. We should restrain ourselves from hate speech, stirring sensitivities, as well as provoking anger and hostility.”
Words have power unlike no other weapon. The right choice of words can unite nations, while the opposite can cause great nations to divide. There was a time when only those at the top of society were influential. But, now, with technology and the Internet, anyone can be influential if they are visible enough.
Our ability to influence people with words is such a powerful tool — it is rather baffling when people use it to create controversy or pull a publicity stunt for the sake of views and likes.
To quote a Malaysian constitutional law scholar, Shad Saleem Faruqi: “Freedom per se has no value. It is what freedom is for, it is the use to which it is put. It is the sense of responsibility with which it is exercised.”
It is, of course, interesting and saddening at the same time to see how people respond to something they disagree with on social media, even if what they disagree with is, in fact, repulsive in nature.
Every so often, there will be an uproar on the Internet which begins when someone makes an outrageous statement or posts a controversial photo. From there, all hell breaks loose. Like a snowball effect, you will see hundreds and thousands of reposts, retweets and comments overnight.
In another scenario, sometimes the posted content may not have been intended to cause any controversy, but this certainly doesn’t stop social media users from overreacting and responding in a harsh manner.
Social media has made us evolve into hyper-emotional beings — for many of us, it has become second nature to instantly respond to content that we dislike, without considering the language we are using and the consequences of our words.
How does it make us appear? How do our words actually help the situation?
If you were to apply the same situation in real-life settings, most people would be calmer or suppress their sentiments much longer before expressing it.
When we interact with people face to face, we often think twice before doing or saying something because we take time to consider the reaction we are going to evoke.
One of the advantages of social media, which also poses as a problem, is that it provides people with a safe space to share anything without having to deal with the repercussions.
The barrier that it creates gives people an unusual amount of courage to share things they won’t normally do when they are physically in front of others.
If sharing something controversial isn’t bad enough, there are also those who add oil to the fire by starting heated debates that lead to nowhere. Instead of letting the controversy die out, they unknowingly extend its duration.
Not every disagreement has to become a heated debate, especially a disrespectful one.
Dr Taha Jabir Al-Alwani, founding chairman of the Fiqh Council of North America, said: “If differences of opinion operate in a healthy framework, they can enrich the mind and stimulate intellectual development. Often, people are unable to look at matters in a balanced, holistic way and see the various dimensions of an issue.
“Their narrow perspectives only allow them to see a minor aspect, which is then... blown out of proportion and given an importance to the exclusion of any other aspect. This minor aspect is constantly commented upon and promoted. It becomes the basis for judging, disdaining or accepting others.”
Not all social media users think rationally and I, too, struggle with being an emotional social media user. During my undergraduate days, I would often repost content without thinking and respond to people I disagree with as if my life depended on proving that person wrong.
Fast forward to this day, I wouldn’t do any of that on a regular day.
One of the reasons people are inclined to impose their beliefs on others is due to a lack of communication skills and lack of understanding towards the other person’s background.
I know I have been privileged to have been educated in various learning environments throughout my life.
Therefore, I have learnt to understand that people stand by their beliefs according to their level of knowledge and unique life experience.
Even the most educated person has limits to their knowledge. A scientist may be knowledgeable in his field of research, but if you ask him a question on contemporary art, he may not know much.
We all can be the change we want to see in this world. If we do not like what others are doing or saying, we should counter it by being more responsible with the content that we put out online.
To quote Plato: “Wise men speak because they have something to say; fools, because they have to say something.”
Raja Sarina is a freelance writer, a blogger at www.dearsarina.com. She is a millennial trying to make a difference, starting with herself.