story Justin Ong, Staff Writer
On my first day of college, I distinctly remember the former Dean of Students Kyle Farley strongly discouraging the creation of any confessions pages on social media. In such pages, most of these confessions were harmless, or even humorous. However, some of them expressed outright hatred and rampant discrimination. His rationale was that such pages would destroy community where flagrant and callous remarks are birthed under the cloak of anonymity.
Though what he said resounded firmly with most of us, there was an underlying assumption that accountability was the cure-all. We thought that putting a face to the opinion would turn us into responsible individuals.
But even without the creation of confessions pages, and even with our names tagged to our posts, Facebook has managed to retain an air of hostility. What has kept our timelines “entertaining” has been the rampant finger pointing, scathing comments and even painful Facebook debates, one comment aimed at inflicting more hurt than the last. For what cause, you may ask? At times it may be about pressing issues such as the use of college facilities by external students or discussions over the Common Curriculum. However, more often than not, seemingly trivial issues such as burned bread or laundry room tussles get blown up beyond the scope of the problem itself.
Every problem, no matter how trivial, exists for a reason and probably should be addressed within a community. Facebook, with its public audience, is not necessarily the best place for such dialogue. More often than not, we need to put our egos aside and realize that not everyone shares our problems; that making your problem our problem does not necessarily equate to “community building”, but merely provides an avenue for the infamous passive-aggressive (#paggro) dialogue.
Firstly, Facebook conversations easily descend into an exercise where we reaffirm each other’s rage instead of working towards a balanced discussion. Good argumentation is not always constructive, and instead of convincing others that there may be a solution, we exacerbate our problems by over-defining or even exaggerating them with pinpoint fluency. It is normal to get caught up in our emotions when problems arise, but for the sake of the community, we should revise our intentions prior to posting. We need to ask ourselves whether we are consciously searching for a solution, or merely probing for tension in the hope that the problems will solve themselves.
Secondly, we need to understand that bringing controversial matters on Facebook places these issues in front of a public audience. We become conscious of what we post, and this tends to make our discussions competitive rather than constructive. Our “community dialogue” turns into a tussle for ‘likes’ and agreement more than anything else. Where it was supposed to be us against the issues, our poor use of social media has turned us against each other. Our public profiles hence seem like a convenient extension of ourselves, where wit and coherence is judged by the number of likes and supportive comments, and where the urge to solve a problem takes a backseat to our precious self-worth.
Instead, we should consider taking our egos offline and engage in actual dialogue. If one is truly unhappy with the way another individual (or group) lives their lives, there is nothing stopping one from going up to them and addressing the issue face to face. It is as simple as going up to someone and saying, “Hey, I have something to discuss with you, and I hope we can keep this between just the two of us.” There’s nothing too strenuous or courageous about such simple acts. Even if an entire group has to be addressed, personal emails, public announcements and even online surveys, would do a much better job of dictating the parameters of discussion, and would be an active attempt at finding a solution instead of magnifying the problem. We don’t need social media to tell us how to behave. As a community, we have each other for that.
So don’t post that nasty Facebook comment in the future. Don’t get passive aggressive with your reposts, and stop finding flaws in every last human being that crosses your path. Ironically, a Facebook comment I chanced upon sums it all up: “Let’s not make [Yale-NUS College] a space where people cannot make mistakes.” And it’s true—we need to learn to be more accepting of differences and stay solution-minded, both within social media and beyond. Only then can we flourish as a community.