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The risk of being yourself in the digital age

As a society, we claim to support individuality and uniqueness. Take a short visit to the comments section of any video or blog post, and you’ll see this idea defamed within seconds.

The digital age has created a world where individuality can be shared with the tap of a button. We can invite others into our personal spheres through photography, writing, videos and art. Being able to share ourselves, our opinions and our work with such ease is a good thing, but unfortunately, and far too often, society’s reaction to shared individuality is anything but positive.

I am big fan of YouTube and have at least 10 “YouTubers” (individuals who make YouTube videos for a living) whose videos I try to keep up with. YouTubers are smart, funny, confident young individuals who create inspirational and entertaining content for their viewers, content which can often be very personal. I have seen videos where the creator is speaking from the heart, talking about serious topics like depression and eating disorders, and directly beneath are comments like, “You’re ugly, go kill yourself,” and “Everyone hates you.”

I think YouTubers are some of the  bravest people around because the second anyone uploads a video, writes a status update or posts an Instagram photo, they are subject to criticism—and these people do it for a living.

(Image from Tribune Media Service.)
(Image from Tribune News Services.)

Most YouTubers have spoken out about Internet hate, because it is a daily part of their career. One of my favorite posts about Internet hate was written by British YouTuber Zoe Sugg, who felt forced to quit filming her daily vlogs due to the amount of hate she was receiving. She was being fiercely criticized for every single thing she did, and eventually, she couldn’t handle the negativity any longer.

Having different opinions isn’t the problem. Constructive criticism is important because it allows us to grow and improve, and disagreement is just a part of life. We are fortunate to have the freedom to share our voices without being persecuted for it. But on the Internet, this freedom is being taking advantage of.

Complete strangers intentionally attack each other just to hurt them, and these people (also known as “trolls”) will come after you for anything and everything, whether it  is your weight, your face, your opinion or something as simple as the way you speak.

An article from The Federalist makes the claim that social media and the constant ability to comment, argue and rebut, has turned us into an angry society who has lost faith in humanity, and, therefore, the respect of individuality. This made me think about the 2012 presidential election week, when social media might as well have been a pit of poisonous snakes.

The amount of people violently insulting each other over differing political stances was astonishing. On my own Facebook feed, I saw people who knew each other, who were “friends,” angrily lash out at each other for holding opposing views. Some of these people were parents, parents who surely want their children to grow up feeling like it’s safe to “be themselves” and that everyone is entitled to their own opinion.

It’s scary to be yourself in this world; it always has been, but it shouldn’t be. It’s 2015, so shouldn’t we be progressing towards becoming a more evolved, accepting society? The Internet is a powerful tool that can be used for so much good. Why are there so many people who continue to use it as a weapon to destroy others?

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