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Column: Social media could destroy us

Posted: September 10, 2018 4:35 p.m.
Updated: September 11, 2018 1:00 a.m.

I am convinced that in less than 100 years, historians will conclude that the widespread adoption of social media was the catalyst that ended the great experiment called America. My attempt today is to present a logical argument that supports this dire prediction.

I begin my argument with seven fundamental ideals that, in my opinion, most Americans have historically supported.

1. Americans welcome all immigrants seeking a better future for their families. However, this is predicated upon entering legally and being willing to assimilate. Pride in one’s heritage is accepted, but American citizens owe their first allegiance to America. Being part of “the melting pot” of America means that we leave our old “ tribes” behind.

2. We believe in the rule of law. If you don’t like the law, change the law. Everyone is presumed to be innocent until proven guilty.

3. We debate both sides of an issue and use facts and reason to develop a compromise position.

4. We understand that a free and independent press not beholden to one political party is the primary vehicle that separates America from Russia or China.

5. We have the freedom to express and debate ideas, even reprehensible ideas, without violence. We can agree to disagree and still remain friends.

6. We believe in being self- reliant and taking personal responsibility for our actions. We are capitalists. Americans have always resisted a powerful central government and have always depended on the local communities and state for their primary support. We believe that our form of government and economy, while not perfect, has lifted more people out of poverty than any other form of government.

7. We have made mistakes, but are proud to be called Americans. America has been a force for good in human history.

Most will readily admit that we have fallen short in our execution of these ideals, but the ideal remains valid. Here is how I believe social media is negatively impacting these unifying principles.

1. Humans are naturally tribal in nature. We generally want to be around people who look, think and believe similarly. Creating a melting pot of diverse people is very difficult and is what makes America so unique. This melting pot delivers great advantages if diverse groups are working together for a common good. However, diverse groups working only for their particular group only creates further division. There have been rules for entry and expectations for assimilation because immigrants who don’t assimilate will rarely achieve “the American Dream.” Social media exacerbates division by reinforcing “tribal” views and stigmatizing anyone who holds this traditional expectation regarding immigration. This is fundamentally changing what it means to be an American citizen.

2. Facebook, Twitter, etc., are the platforms for modern day lynch mobs. Half-truths, misinformation, and outright lies spread like cancer and people are routinely convicted in the court of public opinion before any facts are presented. Lives are destroyed based on misinformation. This violates the basic rule of law and equal justice that is the foundation of our society. We also hear so many lies and distortions of truth that this practice is treated as normal behavior.

3. Opinions are not facts. There is little factual debate on social media which makes it very difficult to discern what is fact and what is opinion. If one is debating based purely on opinions, we are no longer applying reason. This type of debate usually invokes an emotional response which too often just leads to anger instead of solutions.

4. Few on the center right side believe that the press is truly independent. They will cite the press’ vitriol against President Bush compared to their favorable treatment of the Clintons and President Obama. While President Trump gives the press plenty of fodder for negative articles, most center right folks, who are rightly disgusted by his personal attacks, also believe that President Trump has a point when he complains that the media’s focus is overwhelmingly negative. We need a press that criticizes and praises both sides of the aisle. Too many Americans are turning to social media for “news.” America ceases to exist when social media becomes our source for news instead of journalists who follow tenets of ethical journalism.

5. The left has always supported free speech, even speech that has been considered hateful. Now, leftist demonstrators commit violence at college campuses to protest the very appearance of conservative speakers to try to stifle that speech. This is patently un-American. College campuses should be teaching students to listen to both sides of an issue before making conclusions. Social media is the platform for mobilizing radical people on both sides of the aisle.

6. Hate and discontent spreads, which is causing too many to lose perspective. The addictive nature of social media makes it easy to drive false narratives which create a sense of anger and hopelessness. Hopelessness leads to inaction, blaming others, and a desire for a powerful Washington to “fix” things.

7. Surveys of our younger generation show too many honestly believe that America has not been a force for good in human history. Social media has helped drive this negative perception.

I still believe in these seven fundamental ideals. I believe they are critical for our 50 states to remain united as one America. I also see where each of these beliefs are under siege due in large part to social media. As an engineer that does a cost benefit analysis way too often, the decision to delete Facebook from my computer is pretty easy.

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