Leaving behind a digital footprint
Our social media profiles are our autobiographies. Do we want to leave a legacy of hate?
What is your legacy? In a world where everything we say and do, and everywhere we go, is recorded and analysed and data-fied, who are we, really? Polish sociologist Zygmunt Bauman makes a point that in this age of consumption-driven lifestyles, we are at once consumers and commodities. Nothing exemplifies that like our social media profiles. It is our marketing tool, our official statements and press releases, even a record of our lives. In a way, Facebook and Twitter make us all celebrities; we carefully curate posts and photos and opinions to present a certain “image” to our “followers” and “friends” on social media. In such a scenario, shouldn’t we all be a bit more considerate and careful about what we say on these mediums, and how?
If the discourse on Twitter and Facebook is to be a record of our times, humanity as a whole comes across as one big mess of abuse, ranting and outrage. We are all trolls, preserving for posterity our emotional outbursts and hate-filled rants directed at whoever we have chosen as our victim for the day. Trends show that marginalised social groups such as women, ethnic and racial minorities, and people identifying as LGBTQ tend to receive a lot more abuse and hate online than others, but the abuse factory leaves no one unscathed. In 2018, Amnesty International conducted a study on Twitter tracking 778 women over a year. It found that there were 1.1 million tweets that were classified as “problematic” or “abusive”. That translates to one “problematic” or “abusive” tweet every 30 seconds.
Who are these people who spill abuse on Twitter? They are us, obviously. But if we paused to consider that these abusive posts are what we leave behind (and the Internet never forgets anything) as our legacy, perhaps we will learn to be kinder. Because hate has never been able to make conversation better. Continued exposure to hate only increases the bitterness, and tends to always make it all worse. To make public discourse more civil, we must first begin by taking the blame for making it so bad. While it is important for there to be disagreement and debate in the public sphere, perhaps what is needed is to be reminded that once we are gone, our digital footprint is our story told in our own words. Our social media profiles — anonymous or otherwise — are our autobiographies. Alongside cute cat videos and Mother’s Day love, do we really want our legacy to contain all the hate we have ever felt?