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You have the right to be silent

In the brave new opinionated world online, we can let someone else be strong

Has the world become an increasingly difficult place to make "the right stand"? This is the question being asked in an era where a lot of people are suffering from so-called "information overload", which is flooding society with conscience-testing issues on a daily basis.

The "culprit" is, of course and yet again, the social media, which are helping spread moral confusion through a bombardment of stories - from a heroic dog's tale to the evil of men to scary scientific innovations.

It used to be that the social media could help shape good morals. People wanted to be seen as saying the right things at the right time, and even when they argued, everyone wanted to sound reasonable. Gone were the days of one-on-one debate, so political correctness reigned supreme on Twitter, Facebook and the Web boards. There were audiences, and no one wanted to look a poor debater.

The problem is that it's getting harder and harder to remember what we said previously. If we condemn the Israeli-Palestinian violence, in which children are killed in an ideological bloodbath, what did we just say regarding the Thai children slain in political bomb attacks? If we bemoan the Thai junta's restrictions on "freedom of information", are we being consistent with what we said about WikiLeaks' Julian Assange?

A few days ago on Facebook, one person who had argued in favour of an American death-row convict who took too long to die by lethal injection was remembered as someone who advocated capital punishment for rapist-murderers in the wake of last month's gruesome crime on a Thai train. Inconsistencies like these have become somewhat consistent. There are numerous other issues, like celebrity couple's break-ups and he-said-she-said incidents that invite immediate reaction. If one is not careful, the hypocrisy trap beckons.

So what should we do? The social media make it hard not to have an opinion, even on things about which we know little. But, if it's difficult to avoid expressing an opinion, making the "right" one is even harder. The good thing is that debate sometimes lead to new perspectives. The bad thing is that, once opinions have been voiced, it's almost impossible to take them back, and many innocent people have been found guilty by social-media "juries".

The South Korean taekwondo coach who physically punished his female Thai trainee, was made a villain and then turned into a hero, showered with compliments and apologies. The opposite has happened to the woman involved, who was first treated like a victim but has now widely been dubbed a cry-baby. Being prejudiced or biased is human nature, with or without the social media, but we now often have too little time to think things through.

On the bright side, the social media can be a good training ground for forging opinions that are not only right but also quick. But how can we be trained without putting others through an ordeal in the process? Hypocrisy, after all, can hurt others more than the hypocrites themselves.

The bottom line is that we don't need to take a stand on every single subject. We don't need to sound right all along and make others seem wrong all the time. Perhaps this is just part of the dawn of an information age and the best we can do is absorb rather than react. Speaking up is great, by the way, but we have the right to be silent, too.


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