As a writer, I’m supposed to have a voice. I’m expected to be able to articulate my opinions, do so without fear or hesitation or censorship.
In fact, writers are expected to show a mirror to society, by exercising their freedom of expression.
Freedom of expression, which is a sacred tenet in many countries and communities, is considered the cornerstone of democracies; some would even say, modern life.
We must be free to critique, free to express our beliefs, free to be able to vent our anger.
Social media gives each of us that platform. You don’t have to be a writer to board the social media train, or express your opinions.
You can log on to any of your media and say exactly what you feel, and depending on the size of your platform, you will be heard.
You will receive reactions: virtual hugs or vitriol, depending on what you’re saying, and how many agree or disagree with you.
Many of us do get on this train. Religion, politics, personal feelings and affairs: some of us lead as much of a public life as a movie star or a politician.
Not as many might be interested in our lives, but that does not prevent us from sharing them. There’s a growing trend though, of those who are choosing to switch off social media or, increasingly, self-censor.
Despite being a writer, I find myself guilty of self-censorship, and I’m not alone.
You think twice before hitting the Send button. What used to be a privacy concern has today been burdened as well with an inability to say what you feel—about the pandemic, about politics, the economy. All of it has become somewhat personal, because we’re all in this unnatural survival bunker of a pandemic.
There’s a lot of strife already, stress that wouldn’t go away, arguments due to living too close for too long.
Why add to that by stating facts that others would find unpalatable, especially if it doesn’t make any difference in their actions?
Those who do not observe safety distancing, and other pandemic precautions might be callous or selfish in your eyes, but you do not mention this behaviour on social media.
You might hold views on religion and politics, but you hold them close to your heart, because you don’t want to argue with your friends and relatives.
The differences of opinion are increasingly turning out to be differences in morality, and those can create unsurmountable rifts. So you begin to type in the input or comment box on your social media, but delete it. Observers say that these aborted posts amount to a third of the total number of posts that are actually made.
To keep the peace, you’d rather not engage with those who are loud and proud, because let’s face it, what would you gain from the interaction?
Raised blood pressure, distraction, ruined peace. That said, self-censorship comes at a price. Censoring yourself, and being unable to be who you are in public affects your mental health, your self-image, and, ironically enough, your relationships.
The next time the urge to self-censor on social media takes you, consider examining the reasons why. It is valid to protect your privacy and your mental space.
And it is normal to engage in a degree of curation in order to present your ‘social-media self.’ If the urge to censor yourself comes from wanting to avoid arguments, that is also your right.
It is possible, however, to create social media accounts that are unknown to your loved ones, your work, and your professional persona.
The true cost of self-censorship is the lack of diversity of opinion—that is when we are sucked into a tyranny of the vocal minority.
As a friend of mine wisely said, the burdens of religion are those for the religious to bear, and the same can be said of politics. Just because you don’t say something does not mean you do not feel them. As a writer, I channel these feelings into my fiction, and would encourage everyone to find an outlet, whether it is enjoying or creating art, or music, or simply soaking in nature where possible.
And remember, you don’t have to bear the burden of an unexpressed stance—you can always find other ways to have your voice heard, be it on social media, or otherwise.