Today’s lecture was very eye opening. Just from the mere introduction and background story that Suzanne gave on David Weissman, I was beyond interested. It is not common to hear a republican switch their views, especially openly on social media, so, I was interested to see what he had to say. More specifically, I was interested to see how he bounced back from the abuse he received across platforms. Generally, “to the person targeted, it can feel like the perpetrator is everywhere: at home, in the office, on the bus, in the street” (Gardiner, Mansfield, Anderson, Holder, Louter & Ulmanu, 2016, para 27).
The biggest takeaway from Weissman’s story is that when interactions are civil, there can be benefits and learning can be constructed. Weissman expressed that although he was a Trump supporter and a troll on Twitter, he changed his views and political stance due to his ability to listen and be open-minded. He made it clear that it wasn’t because Sarah Silverman was trying to change his mind, but it was their participation in a civil and respectful dialogue that resulted in personal growth. Silverman asked Weissman questions, where he was able to come to a realization or an epiphany.
This was a prominent yet visible point. When have you ever seen positive changes happen when someone is arguing or forcing their opinions on someone else? Never. You see it all the time on social media in the comment sections. It usually results in back-and-forth bicker with no end result. Furthermore, when one person leaves a negative comment, everyone begins to follow, which is what Konnikova (2013) defines as the “nasty effect” (para 5). In other words, “mobs can form quickly: once one abusive comment is posted, others will often pile in, competing to see who can be the most cruel” (Gardiner, Mansfield, Anderson, Holder, Louter & Ulmanu, 2016, para 27). However, Weissman’s progression toward the end of his journey is an example of the exact opposite. In the end, Weissman was able to engage in an online discussion where both parties were able to identify each other’s identities and what each person was trying to say, contrary to the “online disinhibition effect” (Konnikova, 2013, para 2).
Thus, Weissman’s story was a reminder that rather than creating spaces where people don’t feel welcome or permitted to be heard, it is much more beneficial to create an environment that is productive. I was able to relate this to the readings for this week, specifically, the ideas raised about non-verbal cues, context, and tone and how perceptions can easily be swayed, and intentions can be misunderstood (Konnikova, 2013)
Not only did Weissman’s discussion change my perspective and my beliefs on republicans, it also made me recall an instance where I was able to have a civil, online, conversation with someone who thought differently than me. Before this lecture, however, I had not realized that that is what was happening. That said, I remember having a conversation with an old friend from high school in the thick of quarantine, right around when the murder of George Floyd happened. The conversation was around the movement “abolish the police”. I remember replying to this person’s story and asking for clarity as I didn’t really understand. I ended up learning quite a bit and became aware of the idea of community policing.
Nonetheless, both the readings and David Weissman’s discussion changed my perspective on comments and online interactions.
Konnikova, Maria. 2013. “The Psychology of Online Comments”.http://www.newyorker.com/tech/elements/the-psychology-of-online-comments
Becky Gardiner, Mahana Mansfield, Ian Anderson, Josh Holder, Daan Louter and Monica Ulmanu. 2016. “The dark side of Guardian comments.” https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/apr/12/the-dark-side-of-guardian-comments
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