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Social Media: Challenging Clichés and Stereotypes that Fuel Conflicts

Imagine a world where social media is free of cliches and stereotypes. A world where every phrase or expression is original and meaningful, and every group of people or thing is portrayed accurately and positively. 

How often have you seen on social media that women are not good at Mathematics, men should not show emotions, or people with disabilities are helpless? How many times have you felt that your identity or culture was misrepresented or misunderstood by others as reflected on social media? 

These are the effects of cliches and stereotypes, two common problems transposed to the social media world from our daily lives. 

A cliché is an overused expression or phrase that has lost its original power and meaning. Derogatory clichés are also based on stereotypes or prejudices, while stereotypes are unfair and untrue generalisations that can lead to discrimination and rejection. 

In this paper, we will explore how to challenge the common narratives and assumptions that reduce the diversity and inclusivity of social media. This will help us to use social media as a tool for peace building and conflict transformation.

One of the most common clichés is that “women are not good at Mathematics or Science subjects in general”. This is a harmful stereotype that has been used to discourage girls and women from pursuing a career in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), and further belittle their achievements in these fields. Collectively, we can challenge this stereotype by using social media platforms to empower them to pursue careers in these fields,  while also showcasing their groundbreaking achievements. 

One example of such a community is the Her to Thrive contest, which is a supportive community of inspiring girls and women pursuing STEM dreams. The contest challenges participants to break barriers in physics and mathematics and provides them with opportunities to learn and grow in the domain. Another example is the social media campaign by IDEMIA, a company that uses math to contribute to a safer world. On the International Day for Women in Mathematics, IDEMIA used their platform to introduce four exceptional women who are using their mathematics skills to drive innovation and advance their technologies. These are just some of the ways we can use social media to celebrate women in STEM  and inspire more girls and women to follow their passion for mathematics and sciences.

Another cliché that we want to challenge is that “men should not show emotions”. This is a damaging stereotype that has been used to pressure men to hide their feelings, and to shame men who express their emotions. However, we can challenge this stereotype by using social media to foster emotional intelligence and to encourage men to always feel free to express themselves. For example, we can share videos or podcasts of men talking candidly about their mental health and well-being or if they ever experienced Gender Based Violence. One example of such a podcast is Speaking of Psychology: Men, masculinity, and mental health, with Ronald F. Levant, EdD. In this podcast, Dr. Levant discusses the concept of normative male alexithymia, which is the difficulty that many men have in identifying and expressing their emotions. He explains how this can lead to various problems, such as depression, substance abuse, and violence. He also offers some strategies for men to develop their emotional skills and cope with stress. Another podcast that challenges the idea that men should not show emotions is Sacred Sons. This podcast is part of a larger movement that aims to empower men to heal, connect, and thrive. The hosts are Adam Jackson, Aubert Bastiat, and Jason MacKenzie, who are all passionate about creating spaces for men to explore their authentic selves. They interview guests who share their stories of transformation, challenge, and growth. They also discuss topics such as masculinity, spirituality, sexuality, and mental health. Here, men are encouraged to embrace their emotions and vulnerability as strengths, not weaknesses. These are just some examples of podcasts that can help men become more emotional yet stoic. We can also create safe spaces for men to have conversations about their emotions, and to seek help when needed. Being emotional yet stoic does not mean being weak or vulnerable. It means being strong and resilient. Being able to face challenges and difficulties with courage and composure, while also being able to acknowledge and process one’s emotions in a healthy way, by balancing rationality, wisdom and compassion. Being emotional yet stoic can help men improve their self-esteem, confidence and relationships, as well as their physical and mental health.

The third cliché is “some tribes are smarter than others”. This is a harmful stereotype that has been used to justify stereotypes, prejudice and discrimination. We can use social media to challenge this stereotype by rejecting the idea that race determines intelligence, and by stressing the importance of equal opportunities for education and personal growth. We can share articles or videos that disprove the myths of racial intelligence, and that celebrate the diversity of human intelligence. We can also create online platforms where people of different races can learn from each other and work together on projects. In a post made by The ideology Pas Claudius d great, he stated 

“Facts about (NW) BamendaThese are people with the best secondary schools in Cameroon, the most diverse set of people with very hard working tribes. They should be the center of everything positive about Cameroon but decades of toxic politics has made them the most ignorant, foolish and to an extent very educated but dull people in Cameroon. The NW people are the biggest migrants within Cameroon as labourers and workers contrary to people of the West region who migrate for trade and business.”

This post carries hateful and insulting messages about the people from the Northwest region. It uses offensive language, stereotypes, and generalizations to demean and belittle them. This equally shows disrespect and ignorance for the diversity and achievements of the people and for the historical and political context of their situation. Therefore, it is hate speech can harm the dignity and rights of the targeted groups, and can incite violence and hostility.

The fourth cliché is “poor people are lazy”. This is a stereotype that has been used to blame poor people for being lazy and to overlook the systemic barriers that cause poverty. We can use social media to challenge this stereotype by recognizing the realities of poverty, and by advocating for fair wages, affordable housing, and access to quality education for all. We can share stories or documentaries that reveal the causes and effects of poverty, and that showcase the resilience and hard work of poor people. We can also create online campaigns or petitions that demand social justice and economic equality.

Also, “rich people are greedy” is another popular cliché. This is a stereotype that has been used to resent wealthy individuals and to overlook their potential for positive impact. It implies that wealthy individuals only care about themselves and that they exploit others to accumulate more wealth. To challenge this stereotype, we can use social media to avoid generalizations about wealthy individuals and to encourage philanthropy. For example, we can share examples of wealthy individuals who use their resources for the greater good, and who support causes that benefit society. We can also create online networks or groups where wealthy individuals can connect with each other, and with organizations that need their help.

An additional cliché is “a woman’s place is in the kitchen”. This is a stereotype that has been used to confine women to domestic roles and to limit their career choices. It suggests that women are only good at cooking and cleaning and that they are not capable of pursuing other professions or passions. To challenge this stereotype, we can use social media to challenge gender roles and promote equality in all aspects of life. We can also create online forums or events where women can share their experiences and aspirations, and support each other. While this is a controversial stereotype some women do believe their place is in the kitchen.  

I’ll address the phrase “people with disabilities are helpless” as the sixth adage. This myth has been used to marginalize and dehumanize persons with disabilities, denying them their rights and dignity. We can dispel this myth by promoting accessibility and inclusion for persons with impairments on social media. For instance, we can offer tales or testimonies of individuals with impairments who have made exceptional accomplishments. We can also develop online materials or tools that will improve the usability and accessibility of social media for persons with impairments. We can also advocate for more inclusive policies.

Examining the statement “certain races are more prone to criminal behaviour” as the seventh cliché is what I will do. In the criminal justice system, racial profiling and racism have been justified using this stereotype. We may utilize social media to combat this misconception by opposing racial profiling and racism and promoting equal treatment and legal protection for all people. We might, for instance, disseminate statistics or reports that detail racial discrepancies in arrests, convictions, and sentencing. We may establish internet groups or movements to combat racism and injustice.

The statement “Women are too emotional for leadership roles” is the eighth cliché that I will talk about. This is a stereotype that has been used to undermine women’s abilities and ambitions and to exclude them from positions of power and influence. This is a stereotype that has been applied to diminish the performance and potential of women in leadership roles. We may utilize social media to encourage varied representation and challenge gender stereotypes in leadership roles in order to dispel this myth. We may, for instance, post podcasts or articles that emphasize the accomplishments of great women leaders. Online mentorship or coaching programs may be developed so that female leaders can uplift and support other females.

Let’s talk about the adage “social status determines a person’s worth” as the ninethcliché. This is a stereotype that has been used to divide society and condemn people according to their socioeconomic level. We can utilize social media to dispel this myth by highlighting the importance of every person, regardless of their socioeconomic standing, and by promoting empathy, compassion, and equitable access to opportunities for personal development. We may, for instance, share sayings or narratives that honour variety and human decency. Additionally, we may develop projects or communities online where members of various socioeconomic strata can communicate and exchange knowledge.

Stereotypes and cliches are two frequent issues on social media that can harm both people and communities. Our phrases’ uniqueness and significance might be diminished, and they can lead to damaging conclusions about other people. We can, however, dispel these cliches and preconceptions and make social media a more inclusive and varied medium. We may accomplish this by utilizing social media to share our distinctive and authentic voices, inform ourselves and others about various cultures and viewpoints, and appreciate the richness and diversity of people. By doing this, we may establish a society in which social media is devoid of cliches and stereotypes, where each word and expression is unique and important, and where every group of individuals or item is depicted truthfully and favourably.

Ngufack Ntemgwa, Ngala Desmond 

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