This column appeared in the Jersey Evening Post on 22 February 2016
Political debate on this island seems to often acquire a personal character. In the public domain and face-to-face, discussions are pleasant enough, but on social media people seem to lose sight of decency and respect. Behind the screens and with fingers on keyboards, bravery comes quite naturally to people, although some might well call it cowardice. The original point made is often lost in translation, as the person making that point is then ridiculed and confronted with irrelevancies relating to their own personal sphere. It sometimes reminds one of playground brawls. “If you don’t agree with me, I won’t invite you to my birthday party.” Personal connections or loyalties are often more important than the content of your arguments.
Voicing an opinion in public almost inevitably affects your overall existence and the issue you have spoken out about can easily define your public image. This label becomes hard to shake off and I imagine anonymity is a luxury very rarely afforded to anyone in the public sphere. Is it the absence of party politics that makes real debate something of a rarity? Perhaps differences are never really fleshed out in the odd structures of the Jersey States, where politics are indeed represented by individuals rather than organisations? Would we benefit from more diversity in our politics, educational facilities, our local media or our cultural institutions?
Discussion and debate now mainly take place on Facebook. The existence of a platform like Facebook can encourage people to speak up, engage with debate and get involved with new issues. The question is whether there is enough careful consideration on the internet for proper debate to develop. Most opinions I come across online are entrenched and unfortunately most positions can be ‘defended’ by an array of questionable sources and websites. Hence xenophobic arguments are backed up by ‘evidence’ supplied by websites with an openly political agenda, just like opposing arguments are rarely developed well or properly researched. The nature of the internet is such that people no longer take their time to read a full article, or familiarize themselves with academic or well-argued positions on the topic. The loudest voices usually win the day and soundbites ‘mobilize’ opinions that need no mobilizing as they have already been determined. Rarely does anyone change their position based on the argumentation they have seen online. It is more likely that people who disagree with a certain position will turn away and focus their attention on more ‘friendly’ online environments. We don’t learn from social media, but are reaffirmed in our pre-determined viewpoints. My resolution for 2016 is to stay away from social media more often. I’m sure I’ll learn a lot more.