My grandfather used to say that opinions are like ***holes, everybody’s got one. Thanks to social media, anybody can broadcast their opinions wide and far, no matter how misinformed or unhelpful they may be. A lot of what we see on social media is total garbage, but that doesn’t mean we should censor it.
When I see public pressure for social media regulation, I worry that this means we’re outsourcing our critical thinking. People have always been impressionable and susceptible to misinformation. What’s new, is how the internet floods us with so much unfiltered information. There’s a problem here, but regulation isn’t the answer. We need to take responsibility and think for ourselves.
It may be harder than ever to figure out what’s what, but that only increases our responsibility. We have to pay attention and ask questions. Particularly when we see inflammatory material, we need to look closer. What exactly is wrong? Why is it wrong? How much does it matter? Could this material be an out-of-context attempt to manipulate our emotions?
Asking these questions keeps us from being herd animals, stampeding from outrage to outrage, hoping somebody will fix things. Everybody needs to ignore the garbage and focus on what really matters. Social media platforms aren’t the problem, and they don’t need to be fixed. They are just bringing our private thoughts out to the public.
With so much more diversity of opinion, critical thinking is the key. When I think about the complex world my kids have to live in, few things are more important than making sure they are prepared to choose their values and think for themselves. The choice to filter out noise and concentrate on thinking for ourselves is simple, but not easy.
Personal accountability is the price of being an adult in a free society. We’re responsible for our own choices and their results, good or bad. What I choose to read, watch, post, forward, and believe — that’s on me, and nobody else. That’s a burden and an empowering privilege too.