The Internet is the illusion of an independent society. It serves as a singular location where individuals from different parts of the globe are able to interact. From the “Stop Kony” movement in 2012 to the recent #BlackLivesMatter campaign, online activism reflects a timeless narrative that drives all social change: a yearning for freedom.
In terms of speech and expression, the digital era boasts a lack of restraint that has never been experienced in history. The idea seems like a fairy tale; world peace is on the horizon as honest and authentic communication occurs between people of different cultures. Unfortunately, the Internet is not a utopia where individuals can say anything without lasting repercussions.
Social rules of this time period revolve around the ideal that diverse individuals should be accepted as equals. We look at history in a condescending manner as we compare it with today’s ‘greater’ era of acceptance and equality. Something interesting has been occurring for the past few years that casts doubt on the superiority of the modern social world.
Views that seem to conflict with those ideals of acceptance and equality have been policed through intense criticism online. Any action that can be construed as bigotry in any format is something to be exposed and punished. With the online world being self-regulated, the vision of cyber interaction as a sincere experience becomes a fantasy. The blurred line between cyber justice and social persecution reflects the myth of freedom of speech in the era of the millennial.
Instead of encouraging equal treatment and privilege, attempts at online social justice tend to turn into persecution whereby a single party is treated with hostility from large numbers of people as a result of having or expressing certain views. Fear is not an effective solution to prejudice, and is even less effective in a time when any infringement on freedom is greatly resented.
Fear is not an effective solution to prejudice.
It is difficult to separate justice and persecution when online activists seem to lose sight of their purpose in an eagerness to retaliate for perceived prejudice. There seems to be no patience for ignorance or room to learn about diversity.
If the consequences of being politically incorrect can be as intense as losing employment, staying silent is the best course of action. Yet silence is detrimental to the wider dream for world peace and social equality because people from diverse groups cannot communicate and begin to adjust the distorted lenses by which they may view each other.
The blurred line between justice and persecution online poses a danger to any citizen. One only has to be labelled a bigot to suffer the wrath of cyber justice, regardless of the truth. A misconstrued or wrongly worded phrase has the potential to invite a massive wave of cyber attacks.
It is too easy to forget the human on the other side of the screen, while it is too difficult to empathize with someone that seems so hateful. Individuals, in their fear of offending people, may prevent communication with people from other cultures. Ironically, this wall between different groups is a disadvantage to online social activists looking for large, diverse numbers of people to come together for one cause.
We are both liberated and imprisoned by the Internet when it comes to self expression. We are free to say what we please but are exposed to the consequences of making certain statements. As a result, freedom of speech online is a luxury depending on how little public opinion is important to the life of the subject.