There is a quote that has stuck with me after stumbling upon it years ago while reading about the Second World War. It is by a philosopher named Karl Raimund Popper.
Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed and tolerance with them…We should therefore claim, in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate the intolerant.
This is called the Paradox of Tolerance, that in order to maintain a tolerant society, one must be completely intolerant of…well…intolerance itself. Whenever I am perusing the social medias, or indeed nearly anywhere on the internet these days, I see so much intolerance popping up. And more often than not, when those spouting the ignorant viewpoints are called out, they erect the wall of freedom of speech. But freedom of speech is not equivalent to freedom from repercussions. If I, for example, were wandering down the street shouting obscenities at children, it is perfectly reasonable to assume that a parent is going to get in my face and tell me to knock it off, or perhaps even that the police would be called.
So why are the same expectations not extended to the keyboard and the internet where we spend so much of our time? Is it because people feel empowered behind a keyboard to say and do things that they would never say or do in public? To that end, is the internet not also considered public?
On average, children aged eight and under spend more than two hours a day on screens, often on the internet, unsupervised and alone in a public space. As age increases, so does time on the internet. I am not parent-shaming in any way. That is the way our society is. The internet is an important place where everything from finding a partner to engaging friends to work takes place. And because we as a society are so reliant on technology, it is vital that young people understand and can successfully navigate that technology and all that comes with it.
But we as a society also have a responsibility. We must take back the public space that is the internet. What is unacceptable walking down the street in our own community must also be unacceptable walking down the street on our internet. If you would be offended and loud because someone used a derogatory term to describe a person of colour in the supermarket, you must also be offended and loud if someone uses it on Twitter or Facebook or Instagram or anywhere else that is publicly accessible. Think antisemitism is abhorrent? Me, too. We must call it out when we see it on the internet.
And if you think bullying someone, demeaning another human, because of their gender or sexual orientation is terrible, then we must be completely intolerant of that behaviour in the places we work and play, including on the internet.
Education and change in society is happening at the speed of light thanks to the speed of connection we have now. But we must adapt with this connection. We must extend the same expectations to this connection. And we must, must, must be completely intolerant of intolerance.