In my last blog post, I wrote about the idea that social media, in the hands of today’s younger generation, has an opportunity to spread the idea of peace through their global network. An article I referenced states there is evidence that sentiments among younger people are shifting and the warring ways of previous generations will not be sustainable. This is because views of our global and local neighbors is broadening from our connectivity through social media, creating a virtual student-exchange program.
In our Emergent Landscape class last Monday, I brought this topic to the attention of our speaker Rich Nadworny, a Burlington digital marketing strategist. He didn’t necessarily agree or disagree with the idea that social media will spread the idea of peace throughout the world. He brought up the point that just as peace can be spread through social media, hatred can be spread just as easily. In fact, there is just as much evidence showing that today’s media environment is desensitizing young people to the hurtful effects of their actions. The feeling of anonymity in the internet can bring out destructive behavior in people who are typically good and honest.
About 2 weeks ago, a Rutgers University student killed himself because his roommate and a friend secretly recorded the man having a gay sexual encounter in his dorm room and broadcast the event over the internet with a Web cam. This shows the darker side of social media’s grip on young people’s lives. And the intensity of that grip is felt by both the victim and the people victimizing. Spreading information and images online is devastating in that there is a major loss of privacy, and a simple search of a person’s name can reveal the images and information to friends, family, or employers for years to come.
I’m not saying that social media drove these two kids to do what they did, but I believe the current media environment is desensitizing people to the hurtful consequences of their actions. When these types of pranks are being schemed up, the immediacy and real-time aspect of the Internet does not allow the opportunity for people to think about the multilevel consequences of their actions. The victims become objects rather than people with emotions, feelings, families, etc. It becomes another reality TV episode with yet another hidden camera. I believe that because victimizers and viewers are removed from the action by the fact that they are watching it on monitors rather than in person makes the event more abstract, less personal, and some viewers may not even think it’s real. This adds to the callous attitude people have to viewing pranks like this, and ultimately, that callousness may lead to additional, or “copy-cat,” bullying behavior and hatred.
As I tend to be an optimist when I think about the world around me, I was really interested in the potential for social media in the hands of young people to bring about peace and understanding of others. I had passively, but not actively, thought about how it can be destructive. And Mr. Nadworny was not advocating that social media is bad. But what I took away from his point, that good and bad are spread just as easily in the digital environment, is that in order to truly understand an issue, you really need to look at both sides. If you understand the mindset of why people choose to be destructive and spread hate, you have an opportunity to address it at its roots in order to bring about change for the positive. If you don’t confront the reasons why people spread hatred, you’ll never be able to fix the problem. Tolerance for differences in race, sexuality, religious beliefs, basically everything, should be promoted as early in life as possible. Building a sense of community at a young age allows children to use that sensibility as a foundation for decency and humanity in their life as they mature into adults. And that, hopefully, will lead to spreading the idea of worldwide peace through any medium, digital or not.