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The Freedom of Speech in the Internet Has Risen to Brutality

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The internet can be brutal at times, especially when one does not conform to the popular opinion of the web. Keyboard warriors attempt to shoot individuals down to push an agenda and use insults and hate to accomplish this. Oppression is often associated with slavery or the treatment of women, but people face oppression online everyday.

Jon Ronson was a victim of this oppression and stated “We are now turning it into a surveillance society where the smartest way to survive is to go back to being voiceless”. Ronson is speaking from experience. He received a lot of flak for supporting Justine Sacco, a woman whose joke on twitter about white privilege was misinterpreted. Ronson wrote an article, which highlighted this and people accused him of being racist and others insulted him in other ways. Ironically, the freedom of speech on the internet embodies the problem posing dialogue Freire said would diminish oppression. “Education as the practice of freedom-as opposed to education as the practice of domination-denies that man is abstract, isolated, independant, and unattached to the world; it also denies that the world exists as a reality apart from people. Authentic reflection considers neither abstract man nor the world without people, but people in their relations with the world. In these relations consciousness and world are simultaneous: consciousness neither precedes the world nor follows it”.

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Ronson’s experiences on the web conflict with what Freire believes to be the solution. This could mean that perhaps the problem posing platform, which is the internet, is being used incorrectly. The internet has done well for people, but a majority of the time it is filled with negativity and is used to inflict pain and embarrassment. People are inherently mean. Since the internet is oftentimes a place of oppression, people don’t share their true opinions and instead adopt others’. On the internet, people jump to conclusions, and side with the majority. This was clear after the incident with Sacco. If people had been reasonable and considered both sides, Sacco most likely would not have lost her job.

Ronson describes another similar situation, which involves a woman named Rachel Dolezal, who is a civil rights activist that faked being african american. Rachel Dolezal clearly had a motive; however, before her situation could be justified or explained, she received an overwhelming amount of hate. Ronson had tweeted about his sympathy for her and he too received the same treatment. “I went on Twitter. Someone was calling me a white supremacist. I went back to the dinner conversation. It was nice. I went back to Twitter. Somebody, pretending to be me, had written: ‘Dylann Roof is good.’ Dylann Roof was the racist that murdered nine African Americans in Charleston, South Carolina”. Ronson was not defending Dolezal, rather he was defending a fair “trial”, but netizens clearly don’t support equal rights in this regard. Being that this is the platform Freire wanted, I reread Freire’s ideals of problem-posing education. Reading Freire’s text allowed me to perceive this phenomenon a little differently. Freire affirms that “students , as they are increasingly posed with problems relating to themselves in the world and with the world, will feel increasingly challenged and obliged to respond to that challenge”. This response to a problem is ideal and would benefit society. However, the response by the internet to conceived problems like Dolezal were handled in an inappropriate manner, in which one side oppressed the other, similar to the banking concept.

I wonder why people don’t use this platform to bounce ideas off of each other and gain new perspectives as it was meant for? Ronson touches on my sentiment, stating “On social media we’d had the chance to do everything better, but instead of curiosity we were constantly lurching towards instant cold judgement,”. It is possible that jumping to conclusions is the easier thing to do, since most people will never read the full article and understand the context of the situation at hand. There are certain occasions that bring out the best in people and during these times, the internet can actually do wonders to facilitate a positive movement in which the people come together for the greater good. After the Paris attacks, I remember seeing peace signs fill the web and endless support for the victims and their families. Though it was a tragedy, it demonstrated the potential support people can receive. Ronson recalls similar events from 2014 in which the internet aimed to tackle a true matter, which involved police brutality, remarking “It didn’t need saying-but maybe it did-that using social media to distribute those videos was a world away from the Justine Sacco witchhunt. One was powerful and important. The other was a nasty imitation”. The distribution of the videos brought exposure to an issue, which resulted in movements fighting for equal treatment.

What made this situation different from the rest? Freire stated “in problem posing education, people develop their power to perceive critically the way they exist in the world with which and in which they can find themselves.” Perhaps, physically seeing the videos evoked personal feelings of oppression and encouraged people to make a change. It is evident from the Sacco and Dolezal incidents that people don’t want to read and maybe watching does a more efficient job of displaying information.

The internet is a great tool for exposure, but it can also help a person develop their thinking through problem-posing dialogue used appropriately. A perfect example would be Ronson himself. While the majority reacted to Sacco and Dolezal’s stories in disgust and loathing, Ronson realized there are two sides to a story and refrained from jumping to conclusions. Instead, he was curious about what happened and why it happened. He asked himself “What led her to fake being black? Maybe she has a mental illness. Or maybe she doesn’t.” Asking these questions and obtaining the answers is a key part of problem solving necessary to developing society. This may be the intended way to go about using a problem posing platform.


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