Social media’s influence on current events

By Kassidy Curry
Staff Reporter

With the progression of Internet culture, social media has proven to play a consistent role in current protests and human rights movements. But the question stands, how significant is that role?

The most important element that social media provides is access. If you can access the uncensored web, you have access to immediate information.

“If there’s something going on, you can almost find out instantly,” said Addiction Counseling Club Board Member Randy Anderson.

There are two sides to this: access to quick information, either accompanied or sourced by opinions of the common population, but also there’s the issue of qualification. The Internet presents a platform welcoming opinions of all people no matter how qualified they are to speak on the matter. This can be harmful because a lot of information can be circulated or conjured in a biased or heavily emotional fashion.

“The speed at which people get pertinent information, we can’t quantify it. It’s priceless,” said Art instructor Gregory Rose. “The controversy is that it’s all reacting. There’s not that time to think things through, people want to react.”

However, there’s a beauty to it. The opportunity to share and discuss issues publicly despite your credentials is a very important human right. The freedom of the Internet gives voice to anyone who can go online. Nobody’s opinions should be suppressed or deemed less important than others, but the spread of exaggerated or false information is purely detrimental. It’s easy for things to become sensationalized based off of strong bias.

“People are more bold online,” said Anderson. “I think people find more courage or strength to post or say something on there than in a personal social setting.”

Still, at the core of it, information is allowed to be spread with ease. In many cases the Internet has been able to shine a light in places that don’t usually get seen. Philip Howard, an associate professor at the University at Washington, led a study examining the Internet’s role in the Arab Spring. In an article in UW Today, he states that through their findings, the forming of connections and spreading of news made the Internet a “critical part of the toolkit for greater freedom.”

“When you get into the uprising in Syria, Egypt, Ferguson, anything that we find creates upheaval where we find this contention back and forth, the access that you have with Twitter or Facebook or Youtube is real time if not right behind real time. That’s why it’s really affecting political movements,” said Rose.

But there has to be a line drawn between activism and “slactivism.” The circulation of information is a very important concept, just as it has been for ages with printed publications. However, the simple act of clicking a share button is not the end of an issue. Yes, it’s important to retweet or reblog or like or whatever it may be, but it’s only one of the building blocks in the process of change.

The fact is that the Internet is a very useful tool, but it should be acknowledged that it is a different reality. Internet culture is a foreign world that is overwhelmed with opinions from people all over, opinions which may rarely be spoken in the outside world. We cannot solely discuss these issues into a medium built to inform and share, especially when there is plenty of embellishment and bias presented as truth. Informing the common population, though vital, is only one step to changing the world’s issues.

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