In Defence of Liberty

Driven by data; ridden with liberty.

Social Media and Silence

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Our perceptions are not reality, even for social media. (Edited: Paul O’Brien)

Social media has the incredible power to connect people all across the world, to share our stories, our hopes and our dreams. It also has the terrible power to mislead and to misrepresent. One of these misconceptions is this flawed reasoning: if adherents to a political ideology or members of a party are not seen by a user to be discussing an issue, that issue must therefore be of no consequence to that group, and was never discussed by them.

Gegen Sexismus, Gegen Rassismus

Given I follow on Twitter and have befriended many people who have very different beliefs to my own, many examples of this reasoning can be observed. When the mass physical and sexual assaults occurred in Cologne and other cities on New Year’s Eve, where gangs of men described as being of “North African or Arab in appearance” attacked and robbed women [1], it was repeatedly suggested that feminists were ignoring these attacks [2].

The feminist discussion of the Cologne assaults did not only occur on social media, but took the form of protests in Germany, calling upon action from Chancellor Angela Merkel [3]. The commonly-shown photo from this protest proclaimed ‘Gegen Sexismus, Gegen Rassismus’, reading ‘Against Sexism, Against Racism’.

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Feministinnen schweigen, feministinnen fehlen. (Source: ITV)

Typically, charges of hypocrisy can be riposted, as Helen Lewis does in this February 5th article in the New Statesman [4]:

Each of the women attacked in Cologne was someone. What matters is not that “they” attacked “our” women, but that the patriarchy and male violence endemic across the world took a particular and extreme form that night in Germany. And so I parry the accusation of hypocrisy against me with one of my own: if your interest in misogynist violence starts and ends with Cologne, you don’t really care about women at all.

The problem is that the perception of feminists came entirely through the lens of social media. The proposition that ‘feminists are silent’ reduces down to ‘Laurie Penny has not tweeted about this today’.

Argumentum ex silentio

Another example would be that libertarians, or other defenders of liberty, apparently do not comment about proposals to ban particular garbs associated with Muslim women. Argumentum ex silentio, it is concluded that righteous libertarians do not care about the freedoms of women to dress in a manner of their choosing.

I have written about this proposal before [5], and others have also criticised the suggestion of banning veils or burkas. Similar insinuations of hypocrisy are levelled against American libertarians, who were accused of being insufficiently vocal about the militarised situation in Ferguson [6].

This is not to say that all charges of hypocrisy are false. If a political party claim to adhere to an ideology beyond a mixture of slogans, and proposes public policies that are antithetical to that system of beliefs, the accusation of hypocrisy and incoherence is correct. However, the idea that a group is silent about current affairs is very likely to be false. We cannot possibly read all those who subscribe to particular ideas or their variants.

Britain is not confined by Twitter. Feminists are not solely on Facebook. Libertarians are not limited by LinkedIn. There is a whole world outside the scope of social media.

References

[1] Coleman, J., 2016. Cologne sex attacks: Search for answers. BBC. Available from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-35241808 [Accessed: 6th February 2016]

[2] Prendergast, L., 2016. Why are feminists refusing to discuss the Cologne sex attacks? The Spectator. Available from: http://blogs.spectator.co.uk/2016/01/why-are-feminists-refusing-to-discuss-the-cologne-sex-attacks/ [Accessed: 6th February 2016]

[3] ITV, 2016. Police criticised after Cologne New Year’s Eve sex assault. Available from: http://www.itv.com/news/2016-01-06/hundreds-protest-in-cologne-following-new-years-eve-sex-assaults/ [Accessed: 6th February 2016]

[4] Lewis, H., 2016. No, feminists aren’t scared to write about the Cologne attacks. New Statesman. Available from: http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/feminism/2016/02/no-feminists-aren-t-scared-write-about-cologne-attacks [Accessed: 6th February 2016]

[5] Masters, A., 2013. Involuntary Servitude and a Fashion Police State. In Defence of Liberty. Available from: https://anthonymasters.wordpress.com/2013/09/13/involuntary-servitude-and-a-fashion-police-state/ [Accessed: 6th February 2016]

[6] John, A., 2014. Rand Paul Weighs In on ‘Libertarians Don’t Care About Ferguson’ Meme. The Wire. Available from: http://www.thewire.com/politics/2014/08/rand-paul-weighs-in-on-the-libertarians-dont-care-about-ferguson-meme/376099/ [Accessed: 6th February 2016]

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This entry was posted on February 27, 2016 by in Social Media and tagged , , , , , .
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