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Social Media: The Steroids For Extremism

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In the wake of one of the most devastating wildfires in North American history, Canadians have learned a few valuable lessons. First, we are great at pulling together and taking care of each other during a crisis. The spirit of generosity shown by Albertans and people across the country has been a testament to the spirit of Canada. Second, say what you will about our political leaders, but when something like this happens, they know how to put partisanship aside and work together instead of against each other.

And finally, social media once again proves itself to be the most poisoned medium in world history.

Face it folks, we've taken a wonderful invention and injected it with so much toxicity that one wonders how it has lasted this long. Facebook and Twitter have become virtual cage matches, and we are either engaged in the battle directly or enabling the blood sport by remaining in the audience while it happens.

We have among us two groups who share the crown for the most heinous; the remarkably insensitive radicals on the far left and far right, giving each other digital kicks to the nuts and nipple twists when discussing any issue through social media. These two groups are a minority in numbers but are almost always front and centre due to the sheer volume of their contentiousness.

What caused the Fort McMurray fire? Karma.

Literally hundreds of tweets from the radical left cited karmic forces as the cause for the apocalyptic destruction of nearly 2000 homes and 200, 000 hectares of forest. You could almost imagine their snickering as they hit the Send button.

The Fort McMurray fire is only the latest issue to be poisoned by reactionary politics.

What should the NDP provincial government be doing to assist? It doesn't matter what they do, the fire is their fault to begin with.

Literally hundreds of tweets and Facebook posts from the radical right admonished the NDP government for allegedly ignoring the recommendations from the post mortem report after the Great Slave Lake fire in 2011. This astonishing claim ignores the fact that the Great Slave Lake fire was caused by arson but still managed to gain traction, mostly because it was trumpeted by Ezra Levant, possibly the nation's most infamous right wing zealot.

Of course, the Fort McMurray fire is only the latest issue to be poisoned by reactionary politics, and it isn't even close to being the worst example. All things considered, despite the frantic screaming coming from both sides, the Fort Mac fire has been largely tempered by the rational middle. But the peripheral issue -- climate change -- remains one of the most toxic issues today, dictated by two separate yet equally vitriolic groups; the climate change alarmists and the climate change deniers. Social media serves as the arena where they battle in perpetuity for an omni-present audience who pays attention, argues, or hits the Like button.

So what is it about social media that fosters such a negative display of human behaviour? The answer might be a simple one; members of the fringe are more likely to comment relentlessly on issues that anger them the most, arguing with their ideological opposites and giving the appearance that the issue is dominated by those two opposing viewpoints.

Since most people are not politically active, many walk away from their digital devices feeling like radical opinions are actually part of the mainstream, like climate change being an elaborate hoax, or that the world will come to an end in their lifetime if we don't all stop eating meat tomorrow.

Our social media has been polarized, infecting how we communicate and eroding our collective perception of nearly every current event.

But the most glaring example of an issue dominated by radical lefties and bat shit righties; identity politics. Feminism, racial issues, LGBTQ issues, and class issues -- all of them completely dominated by irrational, knee-jerk reactionary know-it-alls who have tricked the semi-apathetic into thinking they are the only two opinions for every story.

You either believe racism has ended, or that everything is drenched in racism.

You either believe feminism is a cancer on society, or that the invisible patriarch controls every corner of our lives.

You either believe university campuses are filled with troubled students who obviously require trigger warnings and safe spaces, or you believe students have been brainwashed by a secret society of gender studies professors.

You either believe that everyone has a little bit of gay in them, or that there is a gay agenda poisoning our school system.

You either believe the poor are lazy, ungrateful welfare bums, or that there is a cabal of Jewish bankers who control the entire planet.

Discourse has been hijacked by a special brand of lunatics, people who are seemingly normal in real life but spit venom in the online world.

Our social media has been polarized, infecting how we communicate and eroding our collective perception of nearly every current event. Recently, a close friend of mine made a conscious decision to get off Facebook. He's a smart guy, one of those salt-of-the-earth types who is hard not to like. After years of trying to bring a semblance of civility to threads about social issues or politics, and after watching his friends, myself included, get sucked into the vortex of cynical commentary, he threw in the towel. It's been almost six months since he has posted or commented on social media, and he says he has never felt better.

Discourse has been hijacked by a special brand of lunatics, people who are seemingly normal in real life but spit venom in the online world. Like comic book villains, they get caught up in their own drawn out monologues or zippy one-liners, both designed to stifle debate and destroy even the hint of a robust discussion, while feeding our minds a fool's gold hit of adrenaline.

But if the only staying power social media has is derived from our ability to be divisive, then perhaps those of us not on the fringe should do a better job shouting down the partisans. Or, better yet, maybe we should all just close our laptops, put our phones away, and talk directly to each other instead.

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