This is a conversation I had with a person in Russia last winter that contains a very important lesson about the amputation inflicted by social media and an equally important message about how freedom is connectied to political action. –D. C. Weiser
When behind the computer screen, it’s very easy for people to engage in behaviors they would never do in real life. The anonymity of the Internet offers a shield—some people feel as if they can be aggressive, and in some cases abusive, toward others because they don’t feel as though they are hurting a real person. One strange thing about the Internet is that while we are incredibly connected digitally, we are very disconnected interpersonally. The fact you can’t see the people you interact with online makes it easier to “other” them. When we “other” people, we don’t necessarily see them as real people with real feelings, and that makes it easier to disconnect from the reality that our words can cause actual harm.
Thank you, Angelina, for a sensitive and intelligent response to my post. I think you are correct in asserting that the internet and social media disconnect many if not all of us–or not all of us to the same degree–from our sense of reality. What worries me is the way in which your account of the “strange thing about the internet” may be seen to offer trolls and other inflictors of online abuse an excuse for bad behavior.
Angelina! I reread your comment today (July 8, 2020) and realized that you put your finger on an extremely important point: the “disconnected impersonality” of virtual social media. This is why genuine political action and the experience of freedom cannot occur in cyberspace or any digital virtual technology. Freedom can only be experienced tangibly in a space where equality and political authority can appear: that is, in face-to-face personal encounters between citizens who are peers, moral and political equals, when they can recognize and acknowledge the political virtues of courage, impartiality, objectivity, compassion, honesty, a sense of justice, etcetera–qualities that can only appear to humans through free and open discussion, sharing and revising opinions, to reach judgments in order to act in concert on some issue. See Hannah Arendt, On Revolution, the last eleven pages. Or keep checking this blog for updates.