On Social Media and Perception

In the wake of crises, demonstrations and disasters, dialogue occurs in many different settings. In an increasing manner, social media determines our conversations, responses and perceptions of issues.

Facebook’s ever-present 'trending' box rotates through topics ranging from Bruce Jenner’s transition to debate over the Dress to the uproar over McDreamy’s death on Grey’s Anatomy. Facebook equalizes and desensitizes issues that seem more important than the other, but such is the information age. We are a generation cultured to filter through the topics we find more or less engaging.

The past week has brought more serious issues to the forefront of social media discussion—the Baltimore uprisings, the Nepal earthquake and Bruce Jenner’s interview with Diane Sawyer—issues that elicit responses from everyone but grant exposure to specific social movements and circles of discussion. Each of these events have incited huge social media responses, and recent feeds have reflected the diversity of what people want to talk about.

In a world where issues are constantly evolving, calls for change dominate the Internet and displays of mass violence are distributed widely. Thus, these topics affect and reach individuals in different ways, changing how and why we consume the news material that we do. 

Columnist Isabel Wade wrote about the problem with skewed national media coverage in her Feb. 21 article, “For the Media, it’s All About Ratings,” referencing the highly discussed Charlie Hebdo attack in January in contrast to the lacking mainstream coverage of the massacres in Nigeria that same month. This imbalanced attention to issues is nothing new; we see it in history books, in classrooms and in our own conversations. 

It's important to avoid prioritizing or valuing one concern over another, but rather to stand in solidarity with members of other movements.

This week, TSL is publishing a piece from two students that are currently abroad in Nepal. In their column, they describe the experience from within the country and the sensationalized disaster coverage that was broadcasted to the rest of the world. Their account enforces our need to focus on the media's responsibility to act as an honest, authentic and representative intermediary. 

As we process issues and think about the relevant topics in our own lives, it is essential to remember that comparing two equally tragic but decidedly different issues can end up unfairly pitting them against each other. By doing this, we the consumers engage in a co-dependent relationship with the media, fueling this imbalanced reportage. Our conversations center around what (social) media covers, and this coverage depends on what we want to talk about.

Individuals live through and get behind issues that they feel passionate about, and neither party should feel like their cause is less important than the other. The only conversation that discusses two social causes together should be one centered around solidarity, not one that situates the causes against one another.