The Internet Filter - a forum for polarisation
I found myself groaning at an advert this weekend and grumbling that it was sexist. My horrified son rebuked me - you are not being serious are you? It wasn't as adverts go particularly offensive, it was a kind of homage to Cinderella (cleaner to princess) no doubt perfectly timed to coincide with Disney's latest offering. But I have been swimming in the sea of feminism so I am noticing these things everywhere. It is easy to take a dip, there is an active online community of bloggers, twitters and you-tubers not mention numerous books that are available. Many of these mostly women have very important things to say and it is good to listen to them. It is heartbreaking hearing young girls talk about their experience of relationships, fueled by boys engagement with online pornography; it is sad to hear a teenage girl say "it's a chore to get ready for school" because of the pressure to look a certain way. It is easy to feel angry when girls talk about being called names and spat at by boys. The world begins to look very misogynistic.
However I have two teenage boys and the great privilege that gives me is a window on their world as well. I know the offence that they feel when a margarine advert portrays a group of women ogling a young 'Adonis' type having a swim. I know that issues of self esteem and pressure to look a certain way can be crippling for them too. They can be the victims of harsh 'banter' and feel pressure to act in certain ways. Is the issue sexism or something more complex about adolescence, peer pressure and the media in general?
The danger of being online is we filter the voices that we listen to. Our search history suggests similar searches, similar issues to follow, similar people to ourselves. Rather than becoming broader in our outlook our world shrinks and we begin to blame all the struggles we face on one particular cause, one particular issue, one particular people group. The internet can make us reduce everything into a simple soundbite and reinforce our prejudices. It reinforces victimhood and provides a like-minded support group. The web is a tool that can be used to help us look at a wide range of perspectives, listen to others and imagine ourselves in their shoes but it can become a forum for polarisation not exploration. Often it sacrifices truth for the sake of a simplified pared down argument whilst simultaneously masquerading as expert.
How can we engage with social media and not be deceived? It is increasingly tough. We need to develop on two fronts: we need to know ourselves, we are all capable of being easily led and emotionally manipulated (it is part of being human); we need to develop a healthy caution about what we read, to double check things and listen to alternative viewpoints. I am not saying we shouldn't engage in media - it is part of our world, but as Christians we also need to remember that if we want truth it is found in scripture. If we want to view the world rightly we need to pray to see the world as God sees it. We need to swim in the sea of His Word to view this world rightly. So when you find yourself being angry at an advert ask yourself why!