There are now approximately 3.196 billion people using social media, a 13% increase from 2017. This number is only expected to increase as the number of mobile phone users grows (Hootsuite). There are, of course, many positive aspects to this thriving use of technology. While these positive affects should not be ignored, it is important to bring light to the very real and negative new reality that the boom of social media has created. Facts are constantly being distorted for personal benefit. Personal opinions are becoming a thing of a past as medias help fuel polarization. This all has a noticeable impact on empathy within people as they grow numb to their emotions. The relationship between social media and its users has quickly taken a negative turn and is endangering the way that people react to real life. As social media has grown prominently, there has been a correlating deterioration of facts, personal opinion, and empathy.
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Social media, along with television, has become the prevalent source for information. In a report by Dr. Vousghi, they examined 126,000 stories tweeted by about 3 million people more than 4.5 million times (Dizikes 4). Clearly, media sites such as Twitter provides a more efficient way for current news to be shared at a greater reach of people. The problem with this arises when there is a realization of what these news stories are sharing. From this same study showing how largely news has spread also show that the false new stories out of 126,000 were 70% more likely to be retweeted than true stories were. Not only are these inaccurate stories being shared at a faster rate, but also carry more staying power (Dizikes 3). Discussion of fake news has grown rapidly in recent years, even winning 2017’s Word of the Year (Hodges 1). This has a lot to do with unprecedented change in political climate paired with social media.
A large factor in this disarray is that there is little to no research done when fueling opinions. Media has a huge trigger on motivated reasoning, explaining why the lack of research is there. Motivated reasoning refers to the unconscious tendency of individuals to fit their processing of information to conclusions that suit some end or goal (Mooney 1). Two prominent figures, Donald Trump and J.K. Rowling create a prime example of how motivated reasoning hurts. Back in 2017, Rowling was quick to criticize the president after seeing a short clip of the Trump seemingly ignoring a young boy diagnosed with spina bifida during a White House event. It was not much longer before the author was forced to recant and admit that the video she based her facts on was an edited version of the clip. Rowling admitted that she let her own sensitivities and biases cloud her from taking in the full scope of the situation (Moran). This is a prime example people being caught in the trouble of quickly trusting misguided information. This has grown so much that the term Twitter Fingers has been used to describe all those who let their narrow-minded thinking control them and tweet without a full scope of understanding.
There are many reasons that all these problems are occurring. Newsrooms traditionally need to establish facts before releasing a story, but this is not the case on social platforms. These platforms allow anyone to post their stories to share with millions of people who, like Rowling, take only the information that is presented to them rather than what is accurate. False news has been proven to strike more emotion and interest in its readers. When discussing policy-making and truthfulness Cairney states In the real world, evidence is contested, the policy process contains many influential actors, scientific evidence is one of many sources of information, and policymakers base their decisions on a mixture of emotions, knowledge and shortcuts to gather relevant evidence (Perl 587). There are no credibility checks done as people are quick to trust an article when it favors what they believe.
While it seems like this spread of fake news should be an easy fix, there are factors that make it not so simple. A study by MIT found that users who share accurate information have more followers and send more tweets than fake-news sharers. Despite the differences between factual sources and other, the study proves that falsehood spreads further and faster than the truth (Meyer 1). Social media systematically amplifies falsehood at the expense of the truth, and no research has found how to reverse the trend (Meyer 3). This is dangerous for our society, which allows its citizens to have a large say in how the country functions. Despite all that is put in to creating accurate and reliable news, in the end, it is consumers who need to be more skeptical. This choice is a hard task in this pick a side climate.
Personal opinion is engrained in what America is all about, so much so that freedom of speech is embedded in the Constitution. This important right of American citizens while implemented daily, is deteriorating as media contributes to the polarization of the U.S. Polarization can be defined as a two-sided division between contrasting groups with different sets of opinions or beliefs. This is increasingly becoming a problem as social media grows. Across all media sites people are following their friends, family, and other like-minded people. Seeing so many views equal to one’s self, it is easy to become hesitant to say anything different in other situations. Keith Hampton, an associate Professor of Communication at Rutgers stated People who use social media are finding new ways to engage politically, but there’s a big difference between political participation and deliberation. People are less likely to express opinions and to be exposed to the other side, and that’s exposure we’d like to see in a democracy (Miller 2) Fear of retaliation and lack of support creates a divisive culture as people feel the need to pick a side where they can gain support from others. This is magnified as algorithms are tweaked to show people content like theirs. Twitter has admitted to creating an algorithm that would begin showing people tweets even from people they don’t follow if enough other people they follow favorite them. Facebook is also guilty of manipulating their algorithm, after announcing that they would hide stories with certain types of headlines in the news feed (Miller 3). These kinds of changes are exactly what accelerates polarization in America. Not allowing people to face difference of opinions only makes it easier to blind themselves from varying outlooks, creating a divisive environment.
Conformity, silence, and backlash are all negative consequences that can occur when social media stifles the diversity of opinion and debate about public affairs. Pew Research conducted a survey that stated in both personal and online settings people felt more willing to share their views if they thought their audience agreed with them (Hampton 3). This is the famous filter bubble, a concept popularized in the 2011 book of the same name by Eli Pariser, an internet activist and founder of the viral video site Upworthy. Ultimately, democracy works only if citizens are capable of thinking beyond our narrow self-interest??¦ The filter bubble pushes us in the opposite direction??”it creates the impression that our narrow self-interest is all that exists (Piore 19). The filter bubble heavily relates to the Spiral of Silence Theory, an idea that people are less likely to express their views if they believe they differ from those of their friends, family and colleagues (Hampton 1). This relates to social media, in that the internet reflects and deepens division, making it easier to read only news and opinions from like-minds. It is emphasized through social media since every action, decision, etc. has potential to be scrutinized in the public eye, on a larger scale. Politics, business, public figures and the public are at risk. In this new era of social media, when these groups have stepped out of line in the eyes of public opinion there is large damage to brands and reputation. Understanding how to manage a company in this social media era has become one of the most important roles for CEOs and marketers in companies (Foley). While accountability is important it can be dangerous when the backlash is solely people following a trend of hate and not fully absorbing the situation.
Becoming so quick to conform and attack affects the empathy a person holds as people become out of touch with reality. Compassion fatigue describes the outcome when people are constantly bombarded with tragic stories and eventually get emotionally worn out (Masten 2). This fatigue cannot be solely placed on social media, as it has been going on for years. While media is not exclusively to blame, it certainly exacerbates the amount of tragedies seen, eventually causing some to lose the ability to empathize. Each day there are new hashtags revolving around a tragedy somewhere in the world. Understanding and bringing focus is great and has helped in so many ways but this repetition can still be emotionally exhausting. Instead, emotions have become automatic and ethical obligations.
Another effect that has occurred is that some are unable to empathize with dissimilar people. Confirmation bias refers to people only able to understand and empathize with the people who agree with us but when it comes to people who disagree with opposing sides, we find ourselves unable to empathize, and all too able to demonize and dismiss (Masten 2). Moral superiority comes into play in this way. When people see something disagreeable on social media they are ready to mislabel the other person, who they likely don’t know. The moral superiority that they have, makes it easier to go on the attack. This is especially true as they are looking at a computer screen rather than being in the face of the actual person. People’s inability to empathize with one’s intentions, mistakes, or humanity is toxic and dangerous.
On the other side there is performative goodwill which brings up the question if sending thoughts and prayers, charity donations, etc. can be either inspiring and cathartic, encouraging others to act offline or are people just sharing to get the sentiment out of their system and not seem or feel like a bad person (Lorman 1). We see other people doing something and we follow along because we’re social beings. This is not to say amazing movements such as Black Lives Matter and #MeToo have not been formed, just that there is weak focus.
To conclude there are a lot of factors proving how social media has negatively affected our society. A full understanding of facts is not important if it doesn’t result in self elevation. Personal opinion is shadowed by public views. Empathy levels are being suppressed as we are continually fed tragedies leading us to disconnect. This empathy is also lost as people struggle to relate to those with different values. Individuality, creativity, and growth are all in danger as the toxic environment within social media grows. Seeing as this growth in social media is only expected to continue for years to come, personal work needs to be done to learn how to disassociate the cyberworld from the one outside.
Toxcity on Social Media. (2019, Apr 10).
Retrieved July 3, 2022 , from
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