Internet socialization has shaped the minds of millennials and Generation Z more than any other social force. Though throughout these two generations there can be vastly different experiences with technology, we are essentially the first to grow up on an easily accessible internet.
Our generation gets on the internet for communication and acceptance. We turn to social media to find someone, anyone out there who will validate even the most trivial thoughts and opinions we might have.
In turn, we have also become the most vulnerable populations to land in dangerous online forums and websites with content so vulgar, tasteless, and even morally reprehensible.
We are all too aware of the way multiple mass shooters, white supremacists, and other terrorists are radicalized by conversations on obscure chat rooms and secret forums, and sites on the deep web. Media outlets paint these environments as difficult to access, but even just a few searches and clicks could lead an unsuspecting person – sometimes children and other minors – to dark places.
The internet has become a platform that drastically shapes the way people view social norms, niceties, and taboos alike, and makes them believe they can get away with typing things they would normally not be able to in “real life.”
Not only does the relative anonymity afforded to users of sites such as Omegle, Discord, 4chan, and Reddit, among countless others, create an environment for sexual harassment and unchecked bigotry – racism, misogyny, ableism, and so on – it also desensitizes them to what most people would find shocking and distasteful.
This problem exists on such a scale the generations before us cannot even fathom. Decades ago, privacy and a relative lack of free-floating personal information was a boon our generation would find difficult to conceptualize.
Our generation is accustomed to participation in internet communities – some more than others – but we evidently do not all have the same level of mindfulness of the fact that what we do on the internet is not inconsequential and will have an impact on our lives outside of it.
The recent arrest of a Framingham State football player for the possession of child pornography has many students feeling disturbed, on edge, and even distrustful of the rest of the community. People are in disbelief and shock.
They lived down the door from an alleged predator. They were in the same class as a potential abuser. They cheered on a team with a possible criminal.
This incident is a testament to the fact that what we consume and engage with on the internet is not divorced from what we do and who we are in the real world – especially in this day and age.
While we may create internet personas and swear they are nothing like our real selves, the margin between our online lives and our real lives are razor-thin. The impact of what we read and watch day-to-day, regardless of medium, manifests in the ways we carry ourselves and interact with others.
And while the internet is – at its core – something beneficial that can be used to educate and promote positivity, there are people in the world who abuse the convenience of the internet. For as long as the internet has been around, people have used it for evil.
In an ever dynamic technological world where the internet will never become any less of a cornerstone of modern life, it’s imperative we remain vigilant and cautious about what we consume and post – and pay close attention to others, as well as keeping them accountable for their content.
If we do not, we will reap the consequences of our negligence and live in a world where those devoid of compassion or even a modicum of decency will feel as though they have free reign to bring into the real world the abject horrors we thought were restricted to the intangible confines of the World Wide Web.