How Comment Sections Influence Our Opinions
Charles Schnell, a member of the LOG OFF Writers Group, points out the manner in which we may be influenced, and our opinions altered, by social media. Particularly, he refers to comment sections, and the blessing and the curse that is anonymity.
Opinions are transforming into increasingly dependent thoughts.
Our beliefs and attitudes are presently influenced by the orators whose words to which we listen, the writers whose words we read, the musicians whose music to which we listen. Well-chosen words, rousing anthems, roaring speeches of honor and fury can make someone believe their feet are made out of wool if the speaker so desired.
Our world is rapid and noisy. Gaze upon any screen and you are one click away from a bombardment of complaints, compliments, over-generalizations, overstatements, understatements, lies, and facts, distributed by simultaneously malignant and magnanimous people (all of us) residing across our planet. Barraged with information of varying reliability and unknown truthfulness, I find it difficult to habitually process thoughts coherently or with comprehensive examination of their details: motivations, implications, externalities.
This is why it is importantly to ground ourselves in our most clear perception of objective truth, in the reality we believe more than any other. While it is beneficial and even right to allow our minds to be changed when presented with proper evidence, it is equally as important to not let our minds be so malleable that we stand for nothing not already stood for by public opinion. Is it not empowering to realize that God gave us the freedom to choose what we believe? No one should be a slave to public opinion or forced to accept immoral, virulent ideas. (This oppression of different ideas, of course, was one of the key strategies of the most malevolent totalitarian menaces throughout history, and will continue to be so.) Of course, I write this mostly inspired by empirical evidence, but I believe that the internet has led to the changing of people’s minds on a variety of ideas, ranging from the most frivolous to the most vital.
The internet accomplishes this through a common feature: comment sections. These are where the bombardment of opinions occur. How often have you clicked on a YouTube video and immediately scrolled to the comments—perhaps even before the advertisement had ended? Why are we so interested? We like to see what others think. But one must remember a key trait of online comment sections: anonymity.
As explained by Aleksandra on SocialMediaPsychology.eu, people can remain anonymous in comment sections, allowing for the online disinhibition effect to occur. This occurs when “accepted social norms cease to exist in online contexts” (Aleksandra). As a result, people say things they would not say if their identity was known—things they possibly know to be wrong and perhaps do not even fully agree with. For how unemotional the internet can make people, it is common to act emotional online, especially when you are anonymous.
While the words people write are their own responsibilities, they do have important effects on the majority of us, the bystanders who simply peruse all of the comments. When we are met with a myriad of comments of this virulent, emotional, joking, and/or dishonest nature, the onlooker can develop a misconception of the true state of the world, the true morality of opinions, the true popularity of beliefs. In turn, their own sense of morality and their own opinions can transform into beliefs they never would have held had the internet never existed. Their own sense of reality, what is true and what is fictional, can be molded into something false. When that line is blurry, one can plummet to depths unfathomable to the human heart, strong and weak in both love and hatred.
We must beware how our usage of social media, particularly when interacting with others in any capacity, affects our minds and hearts. Social media, especially comment sections, provides grave opportunities to acquire, believe, and spread misinformation; for the worst of sin to feast and join forces; to forget or neglect the humanity of each and every soul living on Earth; and to come to conclusions one never would have even thought to arrive at. Identifying what we have chosen to believe has grown more difficult than choosing something to believe. It is up to each of us to remember what we have chosen to believe, stay focused and see through the lies that try to convince us we are not what we are or that we do not believe what we really believe. It is up to use to be confident enough to look at the lies of social media and see through them in order to arrive at our true selves.
Aleksandra. (2016, October 25). How reading online comments affects us. Retrieved December 16, 2020, from https://socialmediapsychology.eu/2016/10/05/onlineandsocialmediaco mments/
Cover photo by Daria Nepriakhina on Unsplash