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NEWS | Nov. 28, 2016

Taking a knee on social media

By Capt. Chad Nixon U.S. Army Reserve Command

I am just curious, who decided that social media would become a breeding ground of irrational opinion that discourages rhetoric and kills off debate?  A bold statement I admit, and maybe I exaggerate in my claims.  I do realize not all social media is opinion based; it still leaves room for Kardashian updates and the hottest gossip on the weekly love interest of Taylor Swift.  (OMG, she is like, so AWESOME!)

For me, social media is a job requirement and does have advantages.  As a Public Affairs Officer for the Army Reserve, I can click a button and use this vast medium of communication to spread information to troops and family members, instantaneously. PAO professionals are not the only ones benefiting from social media; Uncle Sam loves it too.  Not just for the communication aspect, but because it cheap, and by cheap, I mean free.  Uncle Sam himself was unavailable to comment on the subject, so just like social media, I will use my opinion and speak for him.  
My motivation for this article originated from an argument, now life lesson I participated in on social media.  I was using my personal social media account and a friend of a friend posted an opinion stating that the “majority rule should decide to what charities an individual is allowed to donate money to.”  Therefore, I quickly responded, “one of the many things that makes our country great is that we are free to put our hard-earned, post-taxed money where we like and that is an awesome example of freedom.” #AMERICA!  

Silly me, I thought that would be the end of it.  He gave an opinion, and then I politely gave mine in return.  Without warning and like a flash his internet tough guy kicked in and his anger went from zero to 100, real quick.  There was no data or research to back up his broad claims and no respect for debate.  His final attempt at victory was by calling me a “bully” and stating I spread “hate culture”, ultimately having no value as a person.  Completely shocked, I asked myself, what caused all of his anger?  A simple disagreement with an opinion?  

For me, this was my first online battle, and my last.  The Army has policies in place and does not condone negative online behavior.  I know my behavior was far from questionable, but I decided to play it safe and save all my anger for when I retire, grow a beard and yell at children to get off my lawn.  

Now more than ever we see irrational opinion on social media.  Recently a 3rd string quarterback for a professional football team took a knee during the National Anthem.  His purpose for kneeling was to bring attention to social and racial issues throughout the country.  Now, professional football and the National Anthem are two things Americans love and respect.  This immediately caused a massive uproar in the online community.  I can respect that, but what I do not respect is all the irrational opinions that go along with it.  

The first response from the masses was to boycott the team and football organization.  I completely agree; if you do not agree with something, refuse to support it.  However, be cognizant in the way you gather support.  One popular method to sway opinion was to use emotion toward veterans, stating that if you do not stand you are disrespecting service men and women throughout history.  

With this method, I do have an issue.  Maybe I missed the memo, but I do not remember receiving an invitation to a meeting where all veterans gave a collective opinion about the subject and elected a spokesperson.  Most of the Soldiers I serve with neither agree with or against kneeling during the National Anthem, but are proud to serve a country dedicated to protecting the individual rights of Americans.

For all the social media warriors sharing opinion about veterans and football, I have to ask you, how did you support veterans before this event made news?  Do you donate time, money or resources to the cause?  Do you provide information and education to help an estimated 20 veterans committing suicide daily?  

If you answer no to these questions, maybe it is time you do some individual soul searching, conduct a personal inventory, and ask yourself, what really matters to me?  It is easy to blast out various opinions on subjects, but I believe donation of individual time and resources to create change is a true sign of concern and empathy toward an individual or organization.  

I believe we need to focus on the word “social” in social media and respect the opinions of others when posting online.  Consider doing more than just preaching to your current group of friends, and use this platform as a call to action and focus energy toward real change.  

So next time you get on social media and become angered about the latest media headlines, ask yourself, does the way I live my life really compare to the anger I am feeling?  Could this time be spent creating change and raising awareness to help humanity and inspire others?  
Only food for thought during this holiday season, but remember, this is just my opinion.