Saturday, July 13, 2013

Wrong on the Internet - No Innocent Bystanders

Recently an actor I adore posted on Facebook that he had just avoided getting into a “someone is wrong on the internet” discussion. If you're not familiar with that phrase, it's usually used by people who think that we should avoid getting into comment wars with people with whom we disagree. Because someone is always "wrong" on the internet, we shouldn't waste our time and energy arguing with them, especially since it is unlikely that we will actually change anyone's mind.
If you know me at all, you know I disagree with that.
I think it's really important that I share what I believe to be true, and what I know. I may not always be right, but I do know that some statements, ideas, and concepts are without a doubt wrong. I am not of the school of philosophy that says there is only gray, and no black and white – although I do realize that there is far more gray than either extreme. I also know that some people are very strongly advocating for things I know and/or believe to be wrong – especially in areas such as human rights, and particularly relating to children.
Now, I know sometimes, maybe even most often, people use that phrase to mean we shouldn't quibble about unimportant things like the exact wording of a statement or the exact statistic when the posted one was only a tenth of a percentage off. That, I agree with; it's not a big deal. But it's also not the kind of thing people usually get into comment wars over, unless I spend less time on the internet than I think I do and don't have a fair basis for comparison. Anyway, that's not my point; that's not what I'm arguing to defend.
I think it is critical to speak out against things which harm others, and to advocate for things which benefit others. I think human beings have a moral obligation to make the world a better place, and while we all have different ways to do that, sharing what we know is one way that every person can contribute. I also think it is ridiculous to sit quietly while people promote inequality, physical violence, or other equally reprehensible ideas, because there are no innocent bystanders. If I choose not to speak out, I am encouraging those who, through word or deed, cause harm to other people. That includes when people have misguided ideas and just need the correct information (correct being determined by the most current research on the topic, and how definitive that research is, not by opinion).
I say speak out! Make your voice heard, so it's not just the voices of the bigots and jerks that seem to form public opinion. You probably won't change their minds specifically, but you can at least help other like-minded people know they are not alone, and encourage people to look into things for themselves. There are a lot of lurkers on the internet who just might be influenced by your statements, especially if you share them in a compassionate and logical way. But if you keep silent when the majority of speakers are against you, you are not even fighting for equal footing. You are letting them win.
Just as an FYI, two of the things I think it is critical to speak out about include equal rights for all human beings and child rearing techniques. The first, right now, I most often hear discussed in terms of sexual orientation and marriage law, or rights for women in other countries (and to a lesser extent, the U.S.). That's important to me because I have an innate sense of justice which is highly offended when I see people mistreating others. The second speaks mostly to ideas regarding physical discipline, with which I disagree on both a moral and scientific level, and other ideas to a lesser extent. Child rearing is a particularly important topic to me because children cannot advocate for themselves, and this is an area in which I have a lot of education and a lot of experience. I know a lot of people are struggling to figure out what's right, and a lot of people are just doing what their parents did without any idea that current research suggests there might be a better way.
What do you speak out for or against?
Is there anything about which you feel passionately, but haven't had the courage or inclination to discuss online?

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