I often like to take a moment to think about progress. At times I think about my own personal progress, sometimes about the progress and growth of a community organizations I’ve participated with, and sometimes, on a larger scale, of the progress an entire group has made. I think of women in politics.
Social media has progressed our communication abilities in an unprecedented way. We are now more connected to people all over the world than we have ever been before. This is an amazing and wonderful thing. Social media has progressed and expanded rapidly. Common platforms are free and accounts are easy to set up. This ensures that social media is accessible to everyone- all ages and all levels of digital literacy.
Personally, I am an avid Twitter user. It’s a platform to share short snippets of important information or neat pictures or even community updates. It’s a platform that has enabled everyone to have a voice, share their opinions, and be heard. I’ve heard the voices of passionate people within my constituency and all over Manitoba on many different topics through Twitter. It’s awe-inspiring to learn of the different opinions and personal journeys that bring everyone to where they are today.
It is important that we acknowledge the downside of social media. I’ve noticed, especially in recent years, a sharp rise in the use of social media to spread messages of hate and negativity. While these messages are received by all, I’ve most often witnessed these messages directed at women and girls.
As Speaker of the Manitoba Legislative Assembly, I have committed to ensuring decorum and civility in the house. It is our privilege that here in Canada, we have the opportunity to argue and debate with the use of our words. In other countries, that is not always the case. A healthy democracy is one that promotes civility and discourse among representatives.
But why not take that idea into social media? A healthy online community must be a priority. Younger generations turn to social media for a variety of reasons, chief among them is a sense of connection. Which platform is the most popular among youth is always in evolution, but what is constant is the role that social media now plays and will continue to play in the lives of the younger generation. There is no doubt that the kind of interactions, discourse, and levels of civility will have an effect on this generation as they grow up. When vicious messages and harsh language inundates social media feeds, it can have a lasting impact on a person’s self-esteem. For some, the words that are posted are words that will linger. This negative impact doesn’t end as we grow older. Adults have been the victims of vicious attacks on social media as well. It can take a heavy emotional toll.
When it comes to those behind the negativity online, we must acknowledge how damaging vicious social media interactions can be. There is an anonymity with online platforms that enables some people to take their negativity and vile words to a different level, a more extreme level than they otherwise would. We need to be aware that for some, this low discourse will not end online. For a select few, this negativity and vitriol will continue into the real world. That is not okay. We must push for and promote civility in all online discourse. There can be no platform in which demeaning language and hatful language is accepted.
So, what can be done about the incivility on social media? It’s a mammoth issue that will not be done away with by applying a quick fix. It will take a variety of approaches by all of us working together. Importantly, let’s educate our family members and friends about the lasting impacts of negativity, incivility and hatred on social media. Let’s all of us turn away from the negativity- unfollow accounts that spread incivility and remember that we are free to block and report accounts when needed. Give your attention to kindness. Use your social media to connect with friends and family, connect with community members in whichever communities you may belong to, and focus on the good that is all around us. Let’s highlight important causes and spread positive messages. Let’s be kind and encourage others to be kind.
Hon. Myrna Driedger is MLA for Roblin and Speaker of the Legislative Assembly.