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The Beginning of the End of Respect: The Loss of a Core Social Principal During the Social Media Age

Updated on June 8, 2020


Respect. In light of all of recent events, I’ve begun thinking about this a lot and how I communicate with my kids. I do first want to level set that I was completely horrified by the events surrounding George Floyd’s death and it has definitely made me more aware of the challenges faced by the Black community. I also want to say that I was just as horrified by some of the events that followed and began to think to myself – where have we gone wrong?

Let’s leave the George Floyd tragedy for a more detailed, separate conversation. I think this is one that is still developing and we *will* see positive results and awareness in the near days and weeks. Instead, let’s focus on how did we get to a society that is so divided and angry?

This is the question I wrestle with lately and especially think about as I raise my two boys and try to protect them from this crazy world but at the same time look to instill the core principles and values that will help them succeed and make good decisions as they get older. The inputs that kids nowadays have versus what we had when growing up is crazy. The world is always ‘on’ for them. Whether it’s ads in-between videos on Youtube, ads on TV, click-bait, or more – there is always something looking to provide opinion to our kids. As much as we try and control screentime, it does seem a never-ending battle! As we’ve also had to deal with these social lockdowns, it also became apparent how much we have relied on technology to interact, both personally and professionally.

The age of social media

From bulletin boards to AOL. From MySpace to Facebook. From Twitter to Instagram. It’s been amazing to watch the evolution of online applications and the interaction of people on these platforms. I do believe that these platforms offer a powerful platform for interaction but also offer just as powerful of a platform for discontent. This commentary is not about political bias and the types of news that dominates these platforms but rather the impact of how people interact on these platforms.

The decline of Social Interaction

How many of us grew up hearing this from our parents? “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say it.” If I heard this once from my mom, I heard this at least a thousand times. I know I have said this to my kids as well and get the typical eye roll when saying it. So, if this was (and is) such a common proverb for everyone, what has happened? I’m sure there are many contributing factors but one that I am continually drawn to is the decline of in-person interaction. In the past, we used to interact with a small group of friends and family and interaction with ‘strangers’, or those not part of our immediate circles, was limited to public interaction at grocery stores, theaters, and other public places. That is true somewhat today as well, but what is entirely different is the ability to consume news and opinion via social media and then immediately opine with those of similar views and those that disagree. Many people subscribe to the same data sources and interact with people that feel like them in a lot of ways. This is a natural draw to where people feel comfortable and able to express their views. Because of these distinct corners of the web, people feel a sense of security and not often challenged in their beliefs. When challenged, there are often many that are able to jump in defend that further increase this sense of security and legitimizing the opinion.

Users beware – interact at your own risk

Some people thrive in online debate while others struggle. The fact seems to be, though, that when many do decide to opine with differing views, there are two things that happen:

1) The opinion offered is done in such a way that the response belittles those before it and/or devolves directly into personal attacks that have nothing to do with the original opinion.

2) A thoughtful response is offered but the secondary responses to these thoughtful responses quickly escalates and personal attacks are often used.

When either of these happen, the ability to have a rational conversation quickly comes to an end.

Respect. What happened.

So this brings us back to my initial thoughts. What happens when these social interactions go wrong, as they so often do? The one thing that seems to be a constant is there is a loss of mutual respect between individuals when interacting with each other online and there are opposing opinions. It is too easy to ‘yell’ at the other person and we quickly get into an argument that no one is going to win. The ability to argue from a safe place through a keyboard often brings out the worst in many. The ability to have rational conversations and look for common ground in conversations seems to be the last thing anyone is looking for. It has become too easy for people to express opinions negatively and not talk to people with respect when there are no consequences.

What’s next?

How do we increase awareness and the respect between individuals? How can we offer differing, but rational opinions and not immediately create intense backlash? I don’t know that I have any idea on this but it feels like a train that has left the station and impossible to stop. I can only hope that people can begin talking to each other with respect and look for common ground. It’s in this space (common ground) where great things happen. Without the ability to enter any conversation with respect, though, we will continue to see the culture we see today which is often referred to as ‘Cancel Culture’. I have a lot to say about that as well.


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