It is not hard to voice your opinion to a wide audience in the present day. From politics to music preferences, everyone can express an opinion on everything to the world at large through social media. Freedom of opinion is fantastic and essential to a democratic society. The most interesting discussions arise from contrasting opinions. However, it is questionable whether modern social media has actually transformed the act of voicing an opinion into an act of aggression. Perhaps a discussion is needed on what modern day respect means to individuals.

We are all lectured in school of the dangers of cyber bullying. With the massive increase in the use of social media that has occurred in the last couple of decades, these lessons seem highly appropriate. Once we reach adulthood, such lessons fizzle out, leaving us with the knowledge that we have an understanding of what constitutes online respect.

Yet, with social media being such an integral part of peoples’ lives, perhaps lessons in respect have been forgotten. The recent debate surrounding the Conservatives’ majority win suggests that social media is being used to prompt aggression rather than discussion. Many left-wing voters have shown their anger at the Tory majority, arguing that such a win signals the end of the welfare state. In retaliation, many right-wing voters have taken to the internet to defend themselves.This article is not aimed at professing an opinion, but merely to raise questions. If it is successful, it will hopefully prompt further questions and discussion points.

Voting preferences have been highly debated in the recent months. Social media has facilitated this debate. It has also proved to be the springboard for attacks on political allegiances. For instance, Matt Woodruff – a shop owner in East Sussex – has gained online fame for promoting a 10% ‘Tory tax’ on a sign within his store. Woodruff has

argued that he was simply expressing his anger after the Conservatives took the local seat in Lewes, East Sussex. Following pictures of the sign being uploaded to twitter, many angry Conservative voters have posted online that they will no longer shop at Woodruff’s store. A once united Lewes community has suddenly become divided due to a clash of opinions. It is questionable whether reactions would have been so extreme if social media had not been used to publicise such opinions.

If a left-wing government had won the general election, Labour voters would probably be facing similar abuse from right-wing defendants. This discussion is not about party preferences. The point is, why are we all finding it necessary to attack other peoples’ opinions so aggressively to forward our own?

Unfortunately, it seems to be a lot easier to be blunt when hidden behind the anonymity of the internet. When immediate human reactions are taken out of the equation, we seem to feel more at liberty to say as we like.

But, when thinking about the role of respect in historical discourse, it seems important that it is not now lost. Racist, sexist and homophobic attacks have been greatly reduced over the years due to peoples’ recognition of the necessity of respect. From the abolition of slavery through to the acquisition of universal suffrage and the current changes to gay marriage rights, we can see prime examples where the appreciation of respect for others has resulted in the freedom and happiness of the greatest majority.

In these instances, people fought for what they believed in – they professed their opinion. Yet, the factor that enabled their success was peoples’ recognition and respect of their opinion. Perhaps this needs to be remembered in the present day. A right-wing voter may have certain reasons for holding their political preference simply because they hold a different perspective on society than a left-wing voter.

Of course, the media, through employing people such as Katie Hopkins, doesn’t exactly set an example for tolerance and respect. On numerous occasions, she has been viewed as aggressive and ignorant. From baby names to tattoos, Hopkins has commented on it. However, her controversial opinions sell papers. Therefore, her aggressiveness has been supported by some in society.

This is just the action of an individual or group of individuals, and it can never be taken to conclude about society as a whole. It is interesting to wonder though, whether the modern age of social media, which so heavily facilitates our freedom of speech, is actually harming our ability to co-operate to make change.

Since the creation of the Magna Carta in 1216, we have taken the freedom to express our opinion as our right. However with rights, come responsibilities. Whilst we can express our opinion about anyone, we have no right to bully or intimidate them. In order for democratic discussion to thrive, people’s view points have to be respected.

So, before we attack someone’s opinion, perhaps we need to deliberate: what is best for the long run health and development of society? Is it possible for us to integrate our multitude of opinions into one cohesive unit? Within this, can we respect and use others’ opinions for the development of our own arguments? After all, the most persuasive arguments are those that gain support from the widest following of people. If we achieve this, perhaps we can start to see the development in society that many of us long for.

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