Many people were brought up to believe that you should never talk about religion, politics, or money. This was not bad advice, considering by the time most people become teenagers, they have begun to form strong, unbreakable opinions about these topics that all the arguing in the world will not change. Because of this rule, families could enjoy holidays together and stick to safer topics, like football or advice about traveling in Disneyland.
The problem with this kind of avoidance, however, was that it led people to make assumptions about how the rest of society felt. Since people tend to spend time mainly with people they have much in common with, we all began to assume we were part of a normal, like-thinking majority. People who went to church each week and saw hundreds of people in agreement with their views, came to believe that most people felt like they did, and that therefore, they were correct and those who disagreed were incorrect. People who did not belong to a church or similar social group, saw few others like themselves and feared their beliefs were unpopular or shameful. There were very few occasions for people to assert themselves eloquently to say “I oppose this law, or belief, or norm” without it being seen as provoking an argument.
When facebook came along, people had an outlet like never before to share their personal, political, and religious viewpoints. Since a person’s facebook or twitter account is their own, representing their views, it was finally OK to share personal opinions in a less private way. People could read a news story that backed up their feelings, post the story, and have a factually based defense for their views. They could find a cute, concise cartoon or quote that expressed humorously or cleverly what they had always wanted to say, yet had never before been able to. It started with the most outspoken people having the most to say, but it allowed everyone an opportunity to have a voice.
Now we are seeing how people really feel. For instance, we just celebrated Memorial Day, and there were a lot of posts about it. People think Memorial Day is about soldiers, and appreciating what they did for us. Well, they’re right. But if you were to go back five, ten, fifteen, or thirty years ago, this wasn’t how most people viewed Memorial Day. My dad is a veteran, yet when I was a kid, I don’t think I was even aware of the point of Memorial Day. Getting gushy over this day was not worth it before. It was not important enough to have bumper stickers or picket signs devoted to it, but thanks to websites like facebook and twitter, Memorial Day, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and lots of other days have become more than forgettable dates on the calendar that represent no mail or a day off from work. Social networking, more than teachers, or some advertising campaign, or anything else, changed this.
I don’t think President Obama would have supported gay marriage if it wasn’t for the changes that have come about due to social networking. He didn’t support it a few years ago. Back when he said he opposed it, I feel that this was a political decision, and he was saying what he believed he had to say to stay popular. What I believe he really meant was that he didn’t think most Americans supported it, but as more and more people spoke up, the tides shifted and our president was able to admit and stand up for what he’d always believed. If the leader of our country is susceptible to peer pressure, anyone is. But it took the growing impact of people speaking up in support of equality, which happened primarily through social networking, for him to get on board.
Things people used to be afraid were too serious, or too silly, to talk about
While many accuse social networking sites of making it too easy for people to spew out their feelings and bully others with their viewpoints, I think that having a forum that is your own to express what you want to say, and having the guts to say it, is great and powerful. Social networking has shown us that while there is a great deal of diversity in people’s beliefs, we all have even more in common. And as our acceptance and tolerance grow, so does our individual ability to honestly express ourselves.