The key to the work of the strengthening of democratic and inclusive societies lays in the breaking down of the barriers of communication in which individuals can engage in topics in a robust manner. This is especially true if these individuals do not agree on the issue at hand and hold different ideological stances on the issue. The mere fact that the conversation is taking place, and that there is a place where in this conversation can be facilitated is crucial to fostering understanding and creating the society we want.
On the face of it Twitter can be seen as the personification of this tool. This application allows users from all around the world to engage in robust conversations: conversations in which they can share their views and critique one another if their views on topics differ.
Examples of this kind of activity are numerous and occur on a daily basis. However, there is also a trend which is deeply alarming. Twitter has shifted from being a place of engagement to a place of mudslinging. In short, twitter has become toxic and in many instances an echo chamber as well..
What is increasingly evaporating from the discourse is nuance. Without the recognition of nuance, constructive dialogue cannot occur.
A case in point is of someone I know who contributed to a rather heated discussion which was happening on Twitter; they proceeded to enter the conversation with their nuanced opinion. This opinion was completely valid in the context and should have therefore been integrated into the larger narrative of this conversation.
Instead, the toxicity of Twitter has reached such a point that if you do not whole heartedly agree with the so called “correct” view on a topic you will be flooded with defamatory posts, which attack you as an individual. These posts are not concerned with the strength or content of the argument which you present as a counter point to the prevailing “right” opinion.
The person making the nuanced arguments, who is rather soft-spoken individual, recounts getting the vilest messages on Twitter which were solely focused on attacking them, and not the merit of their argument. This resulted the person being deeply emotionally affected, and even admitting to crying for a series of days in utter disbelief at how horrible some people can be towards someone whom they do not even know. Their only transgression is that they have departed from what the ” Twitter sphere” deemed the “right “opinion to have.
In an increasingly polarizing world in which individuals continue to talk at each other, instead of to one another, this trend of the complete disregard for nuance is turning a platform which can be used for good to one which is toxic and vile. The solution to fixing the problem is not immediately obvious but this is a conversation that needs to be had.
Mikhail Petersen holds a Bachelors of Social Science degree in Politics and Economic History as well as an LLB from UCT. Mikhail is an intern within the Sustained Dialogue Programme at the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation, based in Cape Town.