Building trust in a digital world

By Davina Patel and Tracie Mooneyham

Davina Patel and Tracie Mooneyham

Social media has increasingly played a major role in the development of many modern-day movements, whose aims range from combatting sexual assault (#MeToo) and equal rights (#BlackLivesMatter), to conspiracy theories involving child sex-trafficking (#pizzagate) and vaccination safety (#vaccinescauseautism and #antivax). Now, we see and experience the the rise of polarization through social media, as hate content and radical viewpoints are left unchecked on major platforms.

Private companies allowing people to spread misinformation and fake news without any consequences has become a serious threat to our global society and to democracy. In the summer of 2020, police brutality in the US triggered Black Lives Matter protests across the world, putting a spotlight on systemic and institutional racism. In response to these protests, counter movements and their organizations increased the volume of their content on social media, which caused those supporters to become more rooted in their beliefs, and often led to violent encounters on and offline.

So, what is the role of social media at this juncture in global history? Only recently has Facebook and Twitter taken action and suspended the account of former US President Donald Trump. Yet, this only took place following the protest-turned-assault on Capitol Hill; a continuation of the attempt to delegitimize the 2020 election results and prevent the transfer of power to now President Joe Biden (#StopTheSteal). This particular movement has earned the distinction of being called Mr. Trump’s ‘big lie’, which is a charged term that traces back to roots in Nazi Germany.

With Twitter often serving as an open forum for discussion and Facebook being the most far-reaching platform in the world, we have a reason to pause now that these technology companies have decided to silence a prominent figure like Mr. Trump. As it was put in a recent Guardian editorial, ‘Bans against both the [former] US president and his prominent supporters have spread across social media as well as email and e-commerce services. Parler, a social network popular with neo-Nazis, was ditched from mobile phone app stores and then forced offline entirely. These events suggest that the most momentous year of modern democracy was not 1989 – when the Berlin wall fell – but 1991, when web servers first became publicly available.’

Parler, QAnon and 4Chan are all platforms that have become safe spaces those who feel shut out of mainstream media. Silencing those who already feel like the victim only reinforces their beliefs and leads to further polarisation. This is not the time for us, as a global society, to shut out and shut down conversations on important issues that affect us all. So, how do we engage with the radical opinions and perspectives?

We listen. We ask questions. We reflect before we react.

With trust in institutions at an all-time low, perhaps the answer is to start re-building trust from the bottom up and top down. Let our shared values guide us in reframing how we express ourselves and hear others.

Trust is built when people feel they are part of a community or society that takes their concerns and voices into account. In IofC, we believe that everyone has the power to build trust locally, nationally and globally. How? Start with yourself. Only through personal change can real change in our society begin. Take a look at our shop website where you’ll find hundreds of resources and stories of people taking the first step towards personal change.

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