Social media is no doubt here to stay. It is a platform whereby millions of people may share their views, and argue, with each other instantaneously with the click of a button; no longer being at the mercy of censorious leaders either directly or indirectly through exerting pressure on the mainstream media.
It goes without saying that this freedom of expression comes with the responsibility to obey the law e.g. defamation, copyright infringement and incitement to violence and hatred. Apart from that we are free to say whatever we want.
Unfortunately, an increasing number of people are using social media to verbally abuse those with whom they disagree. This frequently happens when a person is losing the argument and has run out of constructive responses. He/she will then resort to e.g. criticising the opponent’s perceived social, political or religious views such as: “Well you would say that, wouldn’t you, being an XXXXX yourself” or “This is a woman’s issue. You’re a man. How can you have an opinion about this?”
These responses are known as ad hominem comments; a Latin phrase meaning “to the man”. They attack the speaker’s character or personality rather than the facts of the argument.
I disagree with holocaust deniers, but I should be able to put my logical reasons to them without shouting them down and calling them “Nazi sympathisers” or “Jew haters”. They may be both of those things, but these details, in themselves, do not mean that I could logically argue that the holocaust did take place. I need historical facts to support my argument.
The immigration issue
Nowhere today are ad hominem remarks more prevalent than in the discussions concerning the acceptance/non-acceptance of immigrants, whether they be refugees from places of conflict or so-called economic migrants.
These heated debates are taking place everywhere: in parliament, the mainstream media, on social media, in pubs, clubs, offices and homes. And, to a greater or lesser degree, the debaters employ ad hominem remarks in a misguided attempt to “strengthen” their arguments. It is not a tool limited to any particular social strata of society; it seems that everybody indulges, irrespective of their education level.
Those in favour of an “open-door” policy on immigration (so-called left-wingers) can be heard to accuse their opponents (so-called right wingers) of being “Neocons”, “Nazis”, “Ukippers”, and “xenophobes”.
Whereas, the right wingers often denounce their opponents as “champagne socialists”, “tree-huggers” and “terrorist sympathisers”.
Apart from the asininity of using these expressions in the debate, it deflects attention from the serious, and sometimes life-threatening, issues that have to be considered by the policy-makers.
Humanitarianism v Pragmatism
On one side of the immigration argument is the humanitarian question: how can it be moral and humane to close our borders to millions of people who are fleeing regions torn apart by daily bombings, killings, maiming, rapes and starvation, irrespective of the cause of such carnage?
On the other side: how can countries be expected to take in millions of people who could have such an effect on their infrastructures e.g. health, education, welfare, pensions, transportation, that the existing populations would inevitably suffer with e.g. failing hospitals, overcrowded schools/housing and insufficient funding for the poor and disabled, even if the immigrants contributed fully to society by working and paying their taxes?
These are issues that face every one of us on the planet today, and it looks like they will be here for some years, if not decades, to come. They will not be resolved by verbal mud-slinging.
Social media is here to be used, not abused. The sooner people realise that ad hominem comments can only devalue, and not add to, debates, the sooner people will be listened to seriously and, maybe, make a difference to our far from peaceful world.