The Dangers of Activism In the Age of Social Media

Being born into the world today is much like living in The Matrix.

Here’s a quick prediction on what your life will be like in the 21st century. Soon after the moment of your birth, you will be blessed with owning your own Facebook page, courtesy of your loving and attention-seeking parents. At the tender age of five, you will be graced with the gift of an iPad on which you will develop a close bond with your community of virtual farmers and needy Sims characters. In your teenage years, you will meet friends who will accompany you for the rest of your life’s journey. Their names will be Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat respectively. Your adult years will be spent on more productive activities such as posting questionably bad landscape photos as a “professional photographer” on Flickr, trying and failing at learning Spanish on Duolingo and attempting to impress your peers by writing intelligent sounding articles on Medium.com. The bottom line is, you will be spending a lot of time on the Internet.

In the whole of human history, never has the Internet been so ingrained into our everyday life. It would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, for our daily routines to function normally in the absence of the Internet. We have instant access to an unlimited amount of information at our fingertips. With so many data available, the amount of clutter that exists on the World Wide Web is growing increasingly uncontrollable as well. We live in the Age of Information or as one article so eloquently puts it, The Age of Bullshit, where the task of separating false information from the accurate ones is becoming almost Herculean.

Social media sites such as Facebook are populated by youths that are very much in tune with world events and political news. Much of the social justice movements of today are advocated by young people with extreme success. However, issues arise when people share incriminating information without fact checking them beforehand. These misleading accusations can severely harm someone’s image. We are proven to be less likely to bother checking the legitimacy of a news article if it is strongly in favor of our arguments. What many of us are unaware of is that many articles are designed to generate as much page views as possible by utilizing attention grabbing headlines with little concern over content authenticity.

Politicians encourage this sort of reckless reporting with their constant exaggeration of facts and fanciful speeches. Politicians, some more than others, tend to stretch the truth because they understand that sensational statements such as these are more likely to appeal to the audience and media due to their shock value.

However, these “facts” are dangerous if perpetuated as they could cast a negative image on already marginalized groups and result in harmful and untrue stereotypes. Additionally, the advancement of technology makes for drawing a clear distinction between obviously falsified truths and authentic news increasingly difficult.

Like most of the depressing issues we face, there is no one perfect solution to combat this. What we can do is attempt to be more diligent in our fact checking. For example, try to clamp down on that urgent need to reblog that article on that very satisfying and convincing article on why Ted Cruz is the Zodiac killer. Instead, take a moment to reflect on what you are essentially doing by sharing the link, critically go over the whole article yourself and check for a trustworthy source.

News organizations should adopt techniques common to social media sites in making their otherwise incredibly dense and sleep-inducing reports to engage their audience instead of sticking to their out-of-date methods and criticizing these contemporary styles of news reporting.

In a time where information isincreasingly crowd-sourced, we must establish our own code of ethics as informed citizens and do our part in discouraging ignorance by practicing critical thinking. After all, if hundreds of people are willing to come together annually to edit Wikipedia pages since 2005, we should be able to take a couple of minutes to authenticate a news source before hitting that share button.

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