Melbourne, in many pockets, is a bubble of leftism, with some level of political correctness and social awareness commonplace amongst even more conservative circles. With the increasing presence of digital information in our lives, this phenomenon is growing across all communities, large and small, across all points of political ideology.

We all suddenly have access to resources, with the ability to quickly and easily educate ourselves and others on all sorts of social justice issues. Generations Z (13-19 year olds) and Y (20-35 year olds) make up the largest majority of social media users and also tend to be the most politically radical.

What this means is that online platforms (especially social media) are now becoming soapboxes for any and all opinions, fostering discourse, creating change, but also, possibly, tearing communities apart.

The reason is call-out culture– a blessing and a curse. On one hand, this behaviour allows discrimination to be stopped in its tracks. Suddenly, there is an instant response option to digital harassment and cyberbullying. Racism, sexism, classism or homophobia, which are omnipresent in online environments, are experiencing more scrutiny than ever before.

That being said, a lot of the calling-out occurring on social platforms at the moment is manifesting laterally, between peer groups, and being carried out in a way that does more harm than good. Call-out culture has become a way for people to exert themselves over others, dominating them with “education” and “intellect”, shaming them mercilessly, failing to recognise that social awareness is a process and that people have the capacity to grow and change.

First of all, access to political resources is a privilege, even in the Internet age. Many young people assume that everyone is “woke”, or should be, when in reality it takes time, effort, access and energy to get to that point.

Second of all, call-out culture works under the assumption that the person calling out knows best and sets the standards for what is appropriate. Such heightened sense of self is not going to connect us– it’s simply going to make other people feel inferior, afraid to speak, afraid to ask questions.

When you act “holier than thou”, you marginalise people. And doesn’t that defeat the purpose of progressive political action in the first place? Rather than try to boast a position of ultimate authority, encourage discussion on your online channels and engage with your peers (of all viewpoints) rather than shutting them down.

Call-out culture is also a popular way for customers to criticise brands for everything from insensitivities to poor customer service experiences.

If you happen to be on the receiving end of call-outs, things can be tricky. For businesses and individuals alike, it’s important to fact-check and “offend-check” before putting anything online. This reduces the chances that we harm or marginalise others with our words or make any silly mistakes that impact our own reputation (now or later on down the road).

We must also know how to appropriately respond to call-outs. As hard as it may be, the best course of action is to address the problem immediately, remain humble and admit mistakes. Bad press is not fun, but responding to it is always a better option than staying silent.

Cross-cultural communication is one of social media’s largest benefits, but with call-outs so prevalent and the fear of misspeaking so great, taking advantage of this opportunity can be complicated. Additionally, politics (and interpretations of such) are constantly shifting.

For now, we encourage those active on digital platforms to pursue self-education above all else, and stop trying to enlighten everyone else. Keep your own path clean and others will respect you for it.