Oh, Mary

Does Social Media Breed Intolerance?

March 18, 2019
Michael Hoffman

At Action Mary, one of our core values is to celebrate our differences. We live in an age of unprecedented enlightenment. At no time in human history have all of us had so much opportunity to expand our horizons and explore new ways of thinking and new paths to address cultural and political issues.

And yet. Social media curation has gradually encased most of us in “culture bubbles.” While we believe that we’re more informed and in touch with what’s happening around us today, we are complicit with the social media giants – Facebook, YouTube and Twitter – in actually insulating us from news and ideas that run counter to our beliefs.

So, in effect, our well-meaning efforts to indulge ourselves online with “people like me” can have a seriously desultory effect. The danger is obvious: to live in a filtered, curated environment is to miss the wonder and awe that accompanies active curiosity. The choice is simple. We can all sit back and consume what the social media giants feed us, or we can, as Lou Reed put it: “Take a walk on the wild side.”

Today, cultural diversity is under attack. “Give me your tired, your poor” has been twisted to “Give me your best and brightest and Caucasian.” The right has no empathy for “your huddled masses.” The lamp to the golden door has nearly been extinguished.

Clearly, the existence of social media is not to blame for decades of bigotry and intolerance. But it has given a voice to some of the worst vestiges of our national character. The temptation to attack individuals, institutions and cultures with relative anonymity is often too much for people.

In a free society, you can’t legislate morality or attempt to right every wrong. But we must have the courage to step out of our personal comfort zones to stand up for what’s right. One of the most existential threats we face in America today is the normalization of the behavior of our elected leaders, who have come to personify apathy and ignorance. Instead of using social media as sedative (or an “echo chamber”) to uphold our personal beliefs amid all the craziness that’s going on around us, can’t we use these powerful tools to ignite a national dialogue that more accurately reflects the diversity of the American spirit? Or should we continue blindly down the pathway to divisiveness and intolerance?