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I am a big fan of the internet.
I think it has empowered millions of people all over the World to do things, learn things, understand things and connect to things that can – and does – make a massive and positive impact to society as a whole.
However, like most things in life, I also think there is a counter perspective … a counter perspective that some people choose to ignore … a counter perspective that has the potential to unravel many of the things the internet has done and given to the World.
I’ve talked about this before, however I believe for all the good the internet has done – and continues to do – it has also resulted in people losing their ability to debate, integrate and appreciate alternative views.
My main concern is that the internet encourages people to gravitate towards others who share the exact same views.
Not similar. The same.
Now there’s nothing new in that – people have been doing a similar thing for centuries – however given the shit that history has shown us and taught us, that’s not always a good thing. Now please don’t think I’m saying the next apocalypse is just around the corner, however I do find it kind of scary that anyone who expresses an alternative view on a blog or a social network tends to be met with a barrage of ferocious zeal rather than a considered and calm debate.
FHM magazine recently did an article on this, where they posted slightly negative or objective comments on blogs that were synonymous with a particular point of view.
While it was all done tongue-in-cheek, the fact people would call someone a “fucking stupid bastard who knows nothing” for simply saying they thought Harry Potter didn’t look as strong as he had in previous movies is pretty extreme. And while you may expect such a comment from the teen fan community’, I don’t think this attitude is exclusive to them.
As I’ve said before, if you offer a well thought out, alternative perspective on a blog or community site, you are generally met with the same level of vitriol as some 15 year old Harry Potter obsessive and I think that’s a very dangerous sign for how society is developing … and one place that I think has the biggest implications of this attitude is China.
Now I know what many people think … China is a land that censors information from it’s people, has a terrible record on human rights and does not believe in total freedom of speech.
And you’re right, it does do all those things … though apart from the fact you rarely feel any of those things happening to you when you’re in the country … I’d also argue that many countries act like that, the difference being China is – albeit through other people bringing it to the World’s attention – more “open” about what they do.
That aside, I appreciate in terms of day-to-day freedoms, the level of censorship the people of China are exposed to is more than in many other countries however I have this thought that the internet – and social media in particular – has the potential to make things even worse here.
You see I am currently seeing a huge amount of Chinese middle classes chattering about Government wrongs.
From highlighting blatant misdeeds to questioning the role of many politicians, it appears there are literally millions of Chinese who have adopted the same sort of stance as many Westerners, which is basically their starting point is ‘anything revolving around Chinese rule is wrong and they’re trying to cover it up’ rather than investigating all the facts before making a decision.
Now I appreciate many people – regardless of origin, gender or background – operate in this way, and I also appreciate China has a track record of trying to hide/mislead people [though I’d love to know if proportionately, they are any worse than other countries, accepting that regardless of the result, it’s the wrong thing to do] but my concern is if millions of people – all in one country – start taking an opposing stance to anything related to the government – whether right or wrong – they’re not encouraging debate, they’re encouraging dangerous and decisive action.
Don’t get me wrong, I am a huge advocate of freedom of speech and I am not professing that people shouldn’t stand up for what they believe in, but as much as the internet has finally given a voice to millions – even billions – of people who didn’t have that ability before, it’s also encouraged the mass formation of exclusive, like-minded groups and my concern is we’re in danger of seeing breadth of opinion being openly sacrificed or deflected in favour of the single point of view.
OK … so the internet is not to blame for this situation any more than Google is to blame for so many in society being stupid … however if we acknowledge that quality decisions can only be made when you hear both sides of the debate, we’re in danger of throwing away the heart of democracy in favour of convenience and conspiracy and as much as that might, on face value, appeal to governments and brands, as the guys in China are discovering now, it comes to bite you on the ass eventually.
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