There is no single physical description to connect groups that share the same political beliefs, but I think I’ve gotten pretty damn close.
My fuschia hair and septum ring scream “bleeding-heart liberal,” and my Instagram stories extolling the virtues of social justice largely back up that claim.
I believe in bodily autonomy and background checks. I think strong social justice programs mitigate homelessness and poverty, and I am passionate that everyone should have the right to express their identity.
And passion breeds the desire to speak out, which can often lead to some uncomfortable and combative conversations.
“Google is free” is a phrase I’ve stumbled across in posts and social media comment sections countless times. Leftists often use it to dunk on their proverbial enemies, using it to respond to those they disagree with or simply don’t want to engage with online, as if to say, “How much of an idiot do you have to be to not know X, Y and Z?”
Sure, it’s not wrong. Google is free, and many of us who feel impassioned by social justice are often quick to research issues we aren’t familiar with. But this phrase isn’t used to scold other progressives, and it isn’t used to rebut hard-line conservatives either.
This is a response mainly reserved for redirecting questions, often posed by those who linger in the middle.
Needless to say, I don’t like it. I’ve often seen “Google is free” used as a shield, protecting its user from whatever uncomfortable question has been shot their way, whether it’s a request for more information about their experience, or a different point of view. It allows users to escape having to explain their opinion, and, even more dangerously, dissolves them of any responsibility to defend their claims or educate those they believe are ignorant to their woes.
It can be tiresome to constantly advocate for yourself and others, and discouraging to be met with ignorance on topics you feel strongly about. Each opposing or derogatory comment can chip away at your confidence.
But with sharing your opinions and experience comes the responsibility to stand by your words and take accountability for your actions. The internet isn’t a void you can shout into to relieve stress anymore. Each comment, each post, each TikTok or Tweet carries weight and with it, the responsibility to educate those around you.
And referring those who disagree with you to Google isn’t the patronizing shot you think it is. Those who are steadfast in their beliefs do not waver easily. After years of consuming self-affirming media and isolating in algorithmic bubbles, people’s beliefs melt into their personas. It is only with kindness, patience and facts that one might start to stray from their norm. Refusing to be vulnerable and meet your enemy on equal ground only serves to embolden their belief that they are right, and that you are stupid.
But how are you supposed to be vulnerable and understanding to someone you disagree so vehemently with?
You try to understand why they think the way they do.
Every person is unique and our opinions and ideologies are shaped by our interactions and experiences. I hate Bud Light Lime because I grew up listening to my dad constantly say, “You don’t put fruit in beer.” These negative associations can embed themselves into our brains and spread like a hateful virus, infiltrating each and every thought we have.
But the opposite of hate is not more hate. Meeting your enemy with compassion and grace is the only way to foster an environment for healthy debate.
And it’s f—ing hard.
It is infuriating to debate with the other side, to hear ignorant statements and hypocritical arguments. I can’t count how many times I’ve engaged in debates online and wanted to resort to character attacks and name calling. But that is always counterproductive, and if you are not prepared to have these conversations, sharing your opinion and refusing to elaborate only serves to stir the pot.
I know it can be off-putting when someone questions your position. It is normal to be defensive when someone challenges you, especially on topics you’re passionate about. But questions do not automatically equate to criticism. Demanding that others do their own research will often only push them to do the opposite.
Online discourse will always be messy. Without the social cues present in in-person conversations, they can quickly divulge into screaming matches. Even writing this, I know some will say I’m making excuses for the ignorant and it’s not their job to educate people. But by posting, you make it your job.
Remember, the world is nuanced.
Insinuating someone is stupid will never get them to join your side. Don’t let your horse get too high, and remember, the conversation is always worth having.
Reilly Mullen is the editor in chief and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Reilly Mullen is the editor-in-chief at The Spectrum. She is a senior majoring in political science with a journalism certificate. She enjoys Dunkin’ iced lattes and Scrabble. A former web, features, news and managing editor, she is a columnist at heart but has covered everything from UB Football to breaking news.