If we go back in time and think of the era before the existence of social media platforms, before 2004, there was not an “obvious need” for having platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. If we ask the question, what is the “real need” for having active accounts on different social media platforms? Or why their founders created them, beside revenues? Then, this would incite a little bit off much-needed reflection about how we are communicating and in which ways we are staying –assumingly- connected all the time.
The Twitter mission is “to give everyone the power to create and share ideas and information instantly, without barriers”. And the mission of Facebook is “to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected”. Therefore, the aim of these two gigantic providers and founders of micro-blogging and social-media platforms is to make people able to share information and to make the world more open and connected. But, the ultimate question would be, to what extent we are making the “world more open and connected”? to some extent, it is true that the world is more open and connected in terms of having millions of people who are able to read the same language, are staying connected and being fed by the same media channels, they are being informed by the same news outlet, and they are following the same social media figures or at least being in the same circle. To some extent, we are witnessing a homogeneity in the media content that we are exposed to, engaged with, generating, and re-sharing. And, today, the bias and the manipulation by media is becoming more clear and so obvious to the readers. The audiences today, are able to see all the dimensions of any given story and news nevertheless, it is still not being reflected on having audiences with critical thinking and intellectual autonomy approach towards any content they are exposed to.
Little by little, still without much of realizations and conscious awareness by the massive numbers of audiences and users of who are “cohabitating” different social media platforms. And, since the users are meant to generate content and now it is more legitimate and more encouraged. We are having new phenomena emerging over the last decade, related to hate and violence!
Once again, we are surprised by having hateful and violent content online that is being manifested also in offline reality and with severe impact. The funny thing, is that us, as users, as negative and positive content generators, as the ones who are engaged in positive and in negative content online, and as the ones who are creating new phenomena of hate speech and manipulating content, we are astonished towards the negative consequences that we have created and contributed to, and once more, without realising any of it!
This continues status of not realizing what we are going through, what we are generating and being engaged with, and the violent content we read and that goes directly through our many endless blind spots is just making the situation more aggravated because, solving any problem, starts by being aware of it. By knowing this, and by examining my behaviour while looking for information and news online and when videos and images for victims of war are circulating on the web, and the only thing I could do, as a viewer, is to watch, scroll down and look for more news. Becoming spectators, latent ones, is another phenomenon were a larger number of audiences are being silent and useless witnesses to crimes against the entire humanity.
This would also lead to highlighting another behaviour online related to being entertained by the negative content of hate, harassment, criticism, and prejudice. Some of this hate and violent content are legitimating itself by saying that they are countering or against this political figure or that content being generated by violent extremist groups. Whereas the fact is that, hateful and violent content will never be legitimate and it will always remain as hate and violent speech that should be prevented by adjusting positively the behaviour of audiences and social media users.
The world moved beyond becoming a global village. Having a smartphone in our hands with internet connection everywhere and with the many needs being adopted by us easily, we all turned into becoming “public figures” phenomena especially with having live streams possibilities and snapping parts of our lives and sharing them with the rest of the world on the web. With this, the issue of privacy is redefined to something that it is empty as being online and broadcasting ourselves and sharing our opinions and thoughts about almost everything, just took down with it another layer of us being rational and aware of what words and thoughts we are sharing or being engaged with.
Add to that, our claimed right for having the ultimate freedom of expression, the ultimate right of saying the first thing comes to our fingers, and again, without thinking, is only aggravating the problem of having violent and hateful content online, of having one main popular stream of negative discourse that is being fed into violent actions in real life.
We are in a status were sharing violent and graphic images and videos are becoming a necessity to generate traffic because we are so addicted to numbers on social media as likes, shares, and comments are defining us. This obsession for how we should be perceived online is turning us into robots already while in the real world, somewhere kilometres away from us, is something grave happening, and it is due to us as well, but, without realizing that… as usual.
The blind spots we are having multiplied themselves into blinding us from being really connected and from being able to have our own critical thinking and judgment as almost every action we are doing is being dictated to us before, via one of the social media platforms.
Realising hateful and violent content, only requires us to be disconnected from online and to actually establish thinking process internally in order to be able to reflect a bit about the world and about what is really going on around us and how much we are contributing the growth of humanity. By Suha Ayyash