Our digital dialogues are demeaning decency

Published 2:49 pm Tuesday, December 8, 2020

The wind, kicking up bits of polluted sand and various chunks of refuse and litter, was harsh against my face, but I lowered my shoulder into it and pressed on into the wasteland, conscious of a thousand putrid odors and a chorus of haunting, threatening sounds, each more grotesque and depraved than the last, despite the trickles of sunlight which passed through the gray, radioactive clouds and fell softly in small puddles along the toxic ground, which bit into my toes as I continued on my journey…

It was approximately 7 a.m. The coffee was still slowly brewing. My daughter had cereal-pink milk dripping from her chin. I was looking for news. What I found was the hellscape described above, only digital, made up of gifs, text, emojis, bad punctuation and grammar, links, videos and multitudinous levels of nauseating and crippling code.

This is not the first time I’ve taken aim at the wide and wicked world of social media and it likely won’t be my last – as it becomes ever more prevalent in our society, taking up space where the real-world act of living ought to be taking place, somebody needs to be frantically waving their arms, like a pedestrian on the roadside desperately trying to warn motorists that the bridge ahead is crumbling and, when it collapses, the city below will be in immense danger.

The digital dialogues that take place in Selma’s tiny corner of the social media landscape are a perfect case study in just how mummifying to the brain these exchanges can be – a cursory glance is enough to learn that council members are holding illegal meetings and making secret decisions and that the mayor is improperly, and possibly illegally, hiring people to various city positions.

There’s little to any of it, which has long been my biggest gripe with social media – unlike news agencies, particularly print media, social media platforms are not bound by law to publish only facts, so half-truths, propaganda and outright lies are allowed to parade side-by-side with the truth as if they are equals, which dilutes the power of facts and gives credence to halfcocked and outrageous conspiracies.

But that’s only part of the problem, as social media has likewise created a screen behind which people can hide while flinging every manner of vile and feculent substances, which cover and infect both the target and any unfortunate bystanders with incredible accuracy, and thereby enabled our most base instincts to rise, grow and even be celebrated by the carnival crowd looking on.

We have not only witnessed the death of truth and decency, we’ve all taken part in its execution – some unwittingly and some unwillingly, but most with a smirk of satisfaction stretched across their faces as the final blows rained down.

Perhaps that’s the tragic gift social media has given us, the collective ability to suffer ignorance and lies as part of everyday life, so common that we hardly even complain about it anymore and in fact embrace it wholeheartedly in some quadrants.

No one should assert that any person should quell the urge to speak their mind – certainly not a member of the press, where the thoughts of the people are turned to type on newsprint – but we should all deeply desire, and indeed endeavor to create, a discourse steeped in decency, where facts are used to substantiate our claims or accepted when they contradict our claims and where even in our disagreements, grand as they may be, civility can prevail.