Monday, April 4, 2016

Global Identity

A link to my video can be found here.

The world is moving in a unique direction, and social media doesn't seem to know how to handle it. I argue why it's vital to encourage disagreement online for the sake of progress.


Inter-connectivity between people across various social networks has been the driving force behind changes in perception over the past 5-10 years. Ever since the world entered a new realm of networking, social media platforms, the world and everything it has to offer has changed drastically. No longer do we only know the friends we can keep updated in our Address Books and whom we choose to call and see how they're doing. Instead, our entire lives are displayed across various platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Google+, WhatsApp, Blogger, Skype, etc. Just a few clicks or key searches, and an entire person's life can be on display.

This concept is fascinating! 15 years ago our lives looked a little more like this:

  • We saved our pictures in a scrapbook
  • Our friends lived in our neighborhood
  • We used an address book to keep track of old friends and their numbers
  • If we wanted to find a job we searched our local newspaper or a company would reach out to us if they somehow head of our accomplishments through local connections and small business networks
  • Home videos were saved on VCR cassettes
  • We used disposable or film cameras to capture our summer vacations
  • etc.

I am very grateful for technology and the opportunities it has created in my life. With this inter-connectivity though, we've recently witnessed a paradigm shift. In 2015, we witnessed this:

This was the year that hatred, offense, bigotry, racism, politics, and critique became widespread across all social networks, online and in person. Last year it actually became socially unacceptable or unpopular to have a different opinion than those around us. Profanity, insults, and rude comments plagued social media, especially Facebook and Twitter.

Though the tension levels online keep rising, we need to let it take it's course. Society will never be able to identify itself and feel comfortable with there it's at presently as long as we try to control what others can and can't post.

Online Experiment

I few weeks ago, I was sitting on the couch at my cousin's apartment, looking at Instagram, and a thought came to mind. I used to be one of those teenagers who would intentionally mess with others (trolling) on social media. That was four years ago, and I haven't done it since then. My social media footprint has all but disappeared since then. I cleaned up my pages and deleted any connection I didn't deem beneficial for my future networking needs. Anyways, I saw a post about a well-liked coach at Brigham Young University, and decided to try out a little social experiment. The results surprised me, but also confirmed what I had thought would happen. This is my original post:

Because I wasn't responding out of anger or rage, or being defensive, I was able to formulate every single response carefully, making sure not to be insulting or offensive. I even tried to be kind and compliment their way of thinking and their respect for the coach. With every one of my responses though, their responses got more fiery and rude. Here are just a few of the comments:

  • "@mitchcottrell you must have some real insider info, if your platform is Instagram."
  • " ...just another name for Lucifer."
  • " ... You don't seem worried or frustrated and you seem to define the word integrity ... You're delusional... it's as though you don't even realize what you wrote. You better go to bed you have an assembly tomorrow before your big class of Integrity101."
  • "...You're a typical social media tool. You feel as though you can say whatever you want because you can voice your own opinion and hide behind a handle. Good for you...keep living the dream."
A Look into the Past

Identity has always been a determining force in history. the United States of America was founded on Enlightenment Era principles. the Declaration of Independence fights for inalienable. rights. American settlers left their lives in Britain and traveled across an eternal ocean. They had no idea what was in store for them, but there was a promise of a different life. Ultimately, what led to the Revolutionary War, was the fact that British royalty was imposing principles, taxes, teachings, and religion on those in the American continent. That was exactly what they were trying to get away from, and it followed them to the New world. The British tried to tell Americans who they were, and what they had to believe. They were limited to certain entertainment, certain culture, and certain social structures. Not only was this mentally taxing to them, it was also idiotic. basic human rights were being violated, and the Declaration of Independence was written up ... 

The rest is history!

Real World Application

At the end of March, I saw an increased number of posts on Instagram about April Fools asking people to be considerate of others. The most prevalent posts looked something like this (most were in a more condescending tone, but I'd rather not post those here):

We've created a culture of correction and critique. We are witnessing the over-bearing presence of online users known as meme police, or online watchdogs. There are too many amateur law-makers. What entitles me to tell you that what you post is incorrect or needs to be deleted? Our freedom of speech is being micro-controlled by one another. 

I get it. Some things are said or done that may offend us. But isn't that a part of life? I'll give a real life example:

My girlfriend's grandmother passed away three weeks ago. It was very unexpected. Within two days, her health had deteriorated completely. As her caregiver for the last year, my girlfriend grew very close to her grandmother. Sitting at her bedside, she watched her grandmother pass away. Since then, we've been around family and friends and random strangers who have brought up death. Whether it be through a meme, a Vine post, or a comment such as, "I hate this professor, I wish he would just die," death has been brought up multiple times a day.

Now, did she have the right to lash out at these people and criticize them for being insensitive? Was she excused from social norms and standards because her grandmother passed away recently and she's still going through the grieving process? Was she permitted to tell these people they're horrible people? Technically, yes. Did she? No. Why? It's because she's better than that. Her grief and sorrow is something personal. She doesn't start every conversation with, "Hey, heads up, my grandma died." She recognizes that those around her may make mistakes, and mistakes aren't intentional.

Simply put: YOU WILL NEVER NOT OFFEND SOMEONE. You can never be perfectly safe that what you say or do is going to be pleasing to everyone who witnesses it.


Del Harvey heads Twitter's Trust and Safety Team, and gives a compelling point of view on social media posts.

Because of the recent trend to resort to criticism and critique this past year, the online world of social media has become somewhat of a virtual battle field. The battle has an underlying implication, our future online identities. This battle is being fought by people trying to dictate what others can and can't post, ultimately imposing on what we believe. We're trying to label others at our convenience, and tell them who they should be and what they should believe. And it's being done to us.

With people getting offended and hurt all across social networks, it's inevitable that we will eventually say or do something that someone else won't like. I propose we let them be offended.

I'm not saying that we should bully and ridicule others. That is off limits. But, when it comes to trying to define and control others, I think it's healthy for society. If arguments happen, let them keep happening.  We need to learn the hard way as a society, that it's okay to be different. It's a give and take society. We need to learn to be less judgmental of those we see online, but we also need to have thicker skin. I don't think that will happen until we reach a breaking point. Eventually, we'll figure out our online identities, and we'll feel stupid for wasting so much time being hurt by what others say. We obviously need to learn this lesson the hard way.

Eventually, over the coming months and years, we'll collaborate to make our own unwritten rules of social networking. We'll learn that others aren't going to change because we tell them to. We'll learn that Unfollow and Block buttons exist. We'll learn that others' opinions aren't detrimental to our own health and well-being. We'll learn that it's okay to be different. Life will go on ... and with the speed everything's changing, that's something I'm excited to witness and participate in!

If you have something to say or criticize about my post, I think I've proven my point.

To make sure that you know how to grow beyond your social media profiles, check out Kotahi Tarawhiti's project here.

For an argument in favor of letting our social media profiles define who we are, check out Katelyn Dalton's project here.

For a counterargument in favor of increased security of our online cyber identity's, check out Jolene Hammond's post here.

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