If social media didn’t exist, Donald Trump wouldn’t even be the president. Here’s why we should take social media seriously.
Okay, it’s true, this is all social media’s fault, but let me start this article off by saying there’s nothing I hate more than seeing someone repost something and then follow it up by saying, “they don’t show that in the media”.
If you are someone who says this phrase, then listen, this next sentence is really going to blow your mind, and it’s something we have to get clear if we’re going to cover any ground in the next 3 minutes.
YOU ARE THE MEDIA.
You are the media. I am the media. Your grandmother is the media. Anyone who signs up for any social media account has essentially just become their own publication. Any idiot who knows how to work a front-facing camera is now a news reporter, and anyone who can figure out how to start a Facebook Group can start a nationwide movement.
This isn’t the future. This is what’s happening now. The majority of us get more “news” from social media than we do from FOX or CNN. Even worse, we are actually more likely to believe a video that was filmed on an iPhone 6 than a story shown on NBC during primetime.
We have got to realize that viral “fake news” isn’t the fault of the creator of it. It’s the fault of every single one of the million individuals that reposted it without fact checking. Nowadays, retweeting a tweet is basically the equivalent to walking up to someone with the New York Times in your hand, and telling them to read a particular article.
Now that we all understand that every single one of us is actually a media outlet, I feel that I can properly explain my theory that social media and our leisurely approach to it, is not only a leading reason, but is the sole reason why things are the way they are right now. This is not an article to try to convince you to believe what I believe. The purpose of this article is to widen your perspective on what’s objectively happening, whether you believe, notice, and participate in it or not. Here’s my theory, and three points to back it:
For the first time ever in human history, our spans of perspective are expanding so wide that our brains actually have no clue how to process and organize the information. As animals who survive mostly by compiling data gathered from the world around us, we are experiencing “data-overload”, and we’re all freaking the fuck out.
I call this the Painful Perspective-Data Expansion theory.
Consider Dunbar’s Number, which is a suggested cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships — relationships in which an individual knows who each person is and how each person relates to every other person. This number was first proposed in the 1990s by British anthropologist Robin Dunbar, who found a correlation between primate brain size and average social group size. By using the average human brain size and extrapolating from the results of primates, he proposed that humans can comfortably maintain only 150 stable relationships.
Before social media, this was the maximum span of the human perspective. Before the internet, most perspectives varied only slightly since you were probably only able to gather perspectives from those that came where you came from or lived where you lived. We were able to compile a small socio-construct of perspective-data of the world around us and act accordingly.
Now that social media exists, we are being asked to compile perspective-data, not only of those around us, but now also with those not around us. We’re now being asked to compile data of people in different states, with different backgrounds, and different interests, and we can’t get away from it. We’re not only being exposed to this new data when we are at the library or in class. Now we are being exposed to lots of new and varying data all day every day. It’s the first thing we wake up to and the last thing we check at night, and this is not even quality perspective-data. Most times, there’s little context to the videos that go viral. Our brains have no idea where to store these kinds of things, and we’re beginning to lose sight as to how each person relates to every other person in our compiler.
1. The span of perspective is being stretched further than ever before, and it hurts.
Not only are we compiling more perspective-data than ever before in human history, but also for the first time in human history, humans with small spanned perspectives are able to influence the perspectives of the masses.
Up until the rise of social media, in order to be someone of influence, you inevitably had to have a wider range of perspective. You had been around more people, and involved in more circumstances than the average. Where the average may have had an influential span of perspective of the standard 150, people of great influence had an influential span of perspective closer to 300. They were exposed to more perspective-data, and thus were able to influence the perspective-data of others. TBH, people of influence in the past were just actually required to have experiences in the topics that they were influencing.
Well, not anymore.
Now that social media exists, someone who may only have a influential span of perspective in the real world of perhaps 25, can turn on a front-facing camera and reach millions. People who have never left the cities they were born in, can now reach the masses. People who have never truly been exposed to different races, religions, orientations, and creeds, now have the power and ability to speak freely about them, and have their opinions taken seriously.
2. For the first time in human history, people with limited spans of perspective can reach the masses.
I’m all for free speech, but one has to question whether or not the range of influence that someone has on a social media platform should mirror their range of influence in the real world. This isn’t a question of free speech; this is a question of mass communication, and whether or not everyone, regardless of the experiences you have in the real world should be able to reach anyone virtually.
We are just not able to gather the actual and proper context around a 59 second viral video, yet our brains compile it as if it’s as important as any of the other data we’re compiling that day. When we see a viral video, here’s the process- we watch the video… our brain compiles the data… then we see the number of likes, shares, or reposts, and if that number is higher, our brain will compile this data at a higher priority. Since we lack context for the data we need to compile, we overcompensate by creating context based on the number of people who agree with the post itself.
The problem with this logic is that the perspective of one, easily gets compiled as also being the perspectives of those that have liked or reposted it. If I post a photo of a sign that says “EAT MORE SEAFOOD”, I may be thinking of how much I love crab-cakes and shrimp (which I do). Someone who reposts it may be thinking of how much they love fish and sushi. Someone else may see the post and believe I’m protesting the protest of stricter mercury laws, thus now they repost it and give a disagreeing caption. We all have different perspectives on this one post, yet the fourth person who is just leisurely scrolling their feed sees my post, sees 4 shares, and that number now becomes context for how many people believe we should all eat more seafood.
This logic is corrupting the prioritization of perspective-data.
If I see enough sexist videos on social media in the morning, I will inevitably go out into the real world and then judge every one as a sexist, but this is not based on the truth that is occurring in my everyday individual life. It’s based on the incorrect prioritization of non-contextual data from people I would never even bump into in the real world.
One does not equal all, despite the large number of retweets.
3. The perspective of one, easily and incorrectly gets compiled as the perspectives of all.
It’s not hard to imagine, that without social media, Trump supporters never would have been able to band together and become as empowered as they are now. Police brutality videos would have never had a platform to go viral. The absence of “sharing” would disallow us to prioritize things that don’t actually affect our individual everyday life in the real world.
Trump wouldn’t be president, and #TakeAKnee wouldn’t be a thing.
That ex-Googler (and “sexist”) engineer would still have his job, and arguably so would ex-Uber CEO Travis Kalanick. Cardi B wouldn’t have made it to Love & Hip Hop and wouldn’t have broken a record. Gluten-free, free-range chicken, and veganism may not have become phenomenons and maybe grocery stores franchises that have been shut down would still be here.
Don’t get me wrong, we’d all still be fucked.
It’d just be for different reasons. This reality that we’re living in right now, though, is definitely the fault of social media, and perhaps we all should take our media publications (our free social media accounts), a bit more seriously.
In the future, we’ll be able to look back on all of this data and we’ll realize how impactful social media was on the outcomes in the “real world”, and that each and every one of us played a crucial role in the outcome of the decade.
— I’m a coder
@FeleciaGenet on Twitter & Instagram.