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article imageOp-Ed: As gun debate heats up, social media fans flames of fanaticism

By Brett Wilkins     Jan 5, 2016 in Technology
San Francisco - As President Barack Obama announced unilateral executive action to curb what he and many observers call an "epidemic of gun violence," social media users on both sides of the gun control debate continued to ratchet up their polarized rhetoric.
Social media offers ordinary individuals an unprecedented platform on which to broadcast their beliefs quite literally to the entire world. Twitter, Facebook and other sites are democratizing debate in a way that was inconceivable just a decade ago. But some observers worry that instead of contributing constructively to the much-needed national conversation about gun violence, social media is amplifying and aggravating the worst elements on both sides of the battle.
Psychological studies have shown that the dissociative anonymity of social media has a disinhibition effect in which people, sitting safely behind the protective barrier of their computer screens, say things they wouldn't dare utter face to face. Studies have also shown that social media amplifies emotions. In debates over life-and-death issues, the results can be explosive. Polemic pyrotechnics and heated hyperbole win out over reasonable thinking and measured exchanges.
Traditional debate as we know it is increasingly rare on social media as people tend to post, retweet and 'like' like-minded content among like-minded individuals. Media researchers call this the 'echo chamber effect,' in which beliefs are reinforced and amplified within an insular virtual environment in which dissenting viewpoints are censored and orthodoxy is demanded at the risk of rabid rejection. Exaggerations, distortions, misinformation and outright lies are not only tolerated, they are 'liked' and retweeted thousands of times, as happened when Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump tweeted spurious statistics on black-on-white gun crime. Neither side has a monopoly on this sort of behavior.
As a frustrated President Obama announced executive action—including expanded background checks, mental health funding and smart gun research—to tackle a public health emergency which claims more than 30,000 lives year after bloody year, the echo chamber grew even more deafening. Not even high elected officials are immune, as this alarming thinly-veiled threat of violence against would-be government gun-grabbers by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott proves:
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Is it possible to turn down the volume in the echo chamber? Probably not. Social media has grown so ubiquitous—there are now more than a billion active Facebook, 400 million Instagram and 300 million Twitter accounts—that it is unrealistic to imagine a suddenly civilizing effect on online speech. Nor would such a chilling effect necessarily be a good thing. However, when it comes to the debate on what, if anything, to do about one of the greatest public health and safety crises facing America today, there are plenty of voices on both sides of the fray that could benefit from a bit of a virtual 'cooling off period.'
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com
More about Obama, Gun control, Social media, Gun violence, social media echo chamber
 
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