Social media has become an important means to spread vital information to a broad range of people in a short period of time. Many people feel that social media is better than mainstream media, which often reports news that is biased, censored, or controlled by political influences. It is important to understand that Social Media cannot replace mainstream media reporting.
In many ways, mainstream media has allowed us to create a world where marginalized communities remain invisible – and whose voices are not heard. This is simply because mainstream journalism makes a choice for what news is reported – based on what it believes people want to hear. We believe that Social media allows us to hear the stories which aren’t reported by mainstream media. A blog post written by Billy Shore suggests that social media has helped to create a world where the poor have become more visible, and we have instant access to people’s stories across the globe. However, Shore reminds us that:
“Social media can’t ensure social justice. But it can affect the invisibility that is the first barrier to achieving it…Social media makes our apathy and indifference visible as well.”
The downside to social media is that we can ‘discover’ the stories of other people without ever having to leave our computer screens. As Roger Cohen (New York Times columnist) writes,
“To bear witness means being there – and that’s not free. No search engine gives you the smell of crime, the tremor in the air, the eyes that smolder, or the cadence of a scream”.
What this means is that social media can give us a false understanding of reality. We think, simply by reading a Facebook or Twitter post, that we are understand what is happening in the world. Unfortunately, we are limited in our real understanding of what is happening. A virtual world has now replaced what is (or is not) happening in real time. The only way to truly ‘see’ what is happening around us is to be actively involved with the people who are the most invisible in our society. Social media can give us a false sense of reality – and in many ways, serve to lead to even less understanding of what is actually happening.
A perfect example of this is the recent DAPL protests in North Dakota, which I recently blogged about at http://bit.ly/2dybGer. Social media reports may be giving us a false understanding of what is REALLY going on – simply because we make choices about what to read, and what to believe. Unless we are actively participating at the protest sites, we don’t really understand what the protesters are experiencing and feeling. We can make a very privileged choice about what the ‘truth’ of the conflict actually is!
Another issue with social media is that it can give us a false understanding of what is really happening. This can cause long-term harm to the communities we care about. I read a blog recently which is a perfect example:
In this blog, Mark Shuller writes about the damage done in Haiti by hurricane Matthew, and how this disaster feeds into an ongoing narrative that Haitians are helpless and poor people who will never survive without outside assistance and disaster relief. Humanitarian aid organizations move in to help – often funded and supported by self-interested multi-national corporations. He suggests that a new story is needed – one that puts Haitians in control of their own future, growth and prosperity.
Social media is very important today, because it allows us to access information quickly. It also is a way for us to have knowledge about the world that traditional media may not be delivering to us. Issues of censorship or bias can be reduced when social media is used. It is important to remember several important things when using social media, however.
- Social media posts do not always reflect what is really going on. We need to understand that virtual reality is not always reality – and that we can’t really understand what is happening to a community without experiencing it firsthand!
- Social media can create stories about people and places which can cause great harm to others, and support misconceptions about the poor and marginalized as helpless or incapable.
- Social media is not all-seeing! We tend to only see or read the things which we are most involved with, the people we connect with, or the internet searches we have done in the past. This can cause us to see only a small part of the big picture. Social media often fails to provide equal access to information as well. As I have suggested in a previous blog post, http://bit.ly/2dS3tBb, white privilege and education can give someone greater access to information and virtual connections than a marginalized individual in remote locations with little or no internet access.
- Finally, social media posts which are taken out of context or not verified to be true serve to misinform the general public. Some people may use social media to promote their own agendas of hate, misogyny, racism, or cultural bias. We are all aware of internet trolls and unpleasant posts in comment sections! Social media has given many people an outlet to spread their own brand of hatred across the globe. These are the most dangerous downside to social media, and all of us have a responsibility to carefully vet and research every post we share or send back into the worldwide web.
If we remember these four important downsides to social media, it can be an important tool for promoting social equality, development and justice around the world!
Until next time, this is Spatial Integrity – Making the Invisible, Visible!