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Things I Learned About Toxic Discourse

When you go online to “join the conversation,” you might find yourself a little lost how to begin. Some conversations online are constructive, but some aren’t. There are plenty of conversations that involve a toxic rhetoric.

There are a range of such conversations out there, so it’s no surprise that there are also conversations on that very topic online. Here’s what I’ve learned from these conversations so far.

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This conversation tells you the basics of how to converse and what healthy and non-healthy conversations alike look like. Not only that, but it gives you a history of why we converse the way we do.

But look. As relevant as all this is, and it is, it also centres on American-style discourse, because of course Americans are the majority on the internet and because they are very influential globally. It’s a mindset that I myself have never felt as strongly, so I’ve always assumed that other non-Americans also don’t have as extreme a mindset as those Americans who share the Bush mentality.

Given this, I think it’s worth looking at how American media specifically is run.

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Well, I would say non-Americans are harder to control because our media is far less jingoistic than America’s is. We don’t have exactly the same poisonous media, but we are still somewhat focused inwards; a lot of our big news stories, even if they happen overseas, is always focused on our nation’s citizens.

But, America does seem to be a special case, since their media does seem to be narrower and more extreme. I believe that a lot of their toxic discourse comes from keeping themselves in their own bubble and shunning those that exist outside it. Americans specifically, after all, seem to be the loudest voices when it comes to arguing over specific topics.

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I know it isn’t just Americans that are the problem. It’s just that Americans specifically are more in the public eye than other Westerners, making their brand of discourse the more visible one. Because it carries more influence, both online and globally, their discourse becomes the voice of other Westerners, since we share much of the same culture, and thus prejudices, as Americans.

Take, for example, this conversation regarding gender roles in Western culture, as opposed to outside cultures.

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And then there are those who take it as their mission to spread such toxic discourse, and test out those that would oppose them in order to find their weaknesses.

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There are specific techniques they use, too.

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There’s also a thing called ‘gaslighting,’ which is referenced quite a lot. A simple example:

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However, I do have an example that talks about it at a bit more length. By examining media, the following example talks about gaslighting, as well as other concepts such as the “female gaze”. The purpose of adding this example is to compare a toxic relationship to a healthy one.

The purpose of these examples is seeing how to deal with toxic discourse when it arises, not only online but in real life.

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Conversely, this next example shows a toxic discourse between female fans of Sherlock and its show runners, as well as providing a counterpoint to the above example’s female gaze, namely the much more common male gaze. It also demonstrates the toxic relationship between women and men in real life.

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Slight addendum to this, regarding male and female fans:

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You don’t have to go online to see all these cases; this is simply the setting many of us use to share our stories or spread our ideas. These ideas may be toxic, or like in these examples, they could spread awareness of these terrible discourses and how to circumvent them. That was my intention here.

I’ll leave you with one last example, which shows how you could react to toxic discourse with grace.

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