Social Media acts as a magnifier on society. This can both be a good thing and a bad thing. In a good way it allows the quiet masses to have a voice and to express their opinion. Before social media these people would not stand up or write an article in a newspaper or otherwise be able to express their views publicly. Now they can easily like or share those posts they agree with, adding their voice to the message. And if feeling strongly they can even add their own comments and thoughts reasonably safe in the knowledge that their voice won’t stand out. We have seen this over the last few days as messages rejecting racism have been liked and shared in their thousands. Social media has enabled a larger part of the population to contribute to the collective voice online.
But there is a flip side to this. Social media provides a platform for a minority of people to share inappropriate comments with the masses, including racist views. Prior to social media these people might have expressed the same racist views in public, but they never had much of an audience and the message never got very far. Now, with social media, they can share their views instantly with millions of people. They also feel safe in the knowledge that identifying them, where they have taken precautions, is not easy and therefore their comments are likely without consequence. Social media has enabled this minority to engage a larger part of the population with their inappropriate messaging.
For me racism has no place in todays society and should be called out and challenged at every opportunity.
I would however highlight an additional concern in relation to viewing society through social media, through the magnifier of social media, and how this can result in a distorted view on society. Social media, to me, suggests that racism is more prevalent based on the large number of social media posts calling our racism, and by extension the suggestion of a larger number of racist tweets. I am not sure, based on my experiences, it is more prevalent. I suspect the availability bias is playing a part here. I believe I heard racist comments more frequently when I was younger than I do now, so this might at least suggest we are heading in the right direction, albeit we can never stop until racism has been eliminated.
I also have concerns about the viral nature of social media, which can lead to massive outpourings of support or concern, etc, but for a short period of time, followed by people moving on to the next viral message. Racism is linked to culture, and culture is changed gradually through consistent changes is behaviours, the stories that are told, etc. Viral but short-lived messaging is likely to do little to impact culture and the prevalence of racism. It is only prolonged and consistent changes in behaviour and messaging which will have this effect. I personally started questioning the taking of the knee at the start of football events, as being a little bit of tokenism, however considering it again, maybe the consistent message conveyed is what we continue to need in the hope of long-term change.
Social media for me, isnt the problem here, but magnifies and possibly distorts it. I am concerned that in seeking to address the issue at hand, currently racism in particular, we focus on social media and the social media companies. Yes, they need to do all they can and possibly more than they are doing, but the issue is a societal one not a technology one. Technology is just making it more visible, but maybe distorting the situation in the process.
As such I think the key here is greater awareness as to how social media fits into situations like this. How social media doesn’t just report and share news, but how it’s very use shapes the news and message being shared. I hope this post maybe contributes a little to this awareness.