Social media serves purpose during crises, but don’t rely on it for your education

Dec. 7, 2015

Hannah Harvey
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On Nov. 13, #PrayForParis greeted me when I opened my Twitter account.

Curious to see why people were using this hashtag, I looked it up. Multiple news outlets reported that over 100 concert goers were taken hostage at the Bataclan by terrorists in Paris.

I was shocked to read so many tweets and stories about this. No one was sure who was behind the attacks at that point, and the amount of casualties and deaths were unknown.

In the days to follow, I was even more shocked to read users’ opinions on the Syrian refugee crisis and what the United States should be doing about it.

Everyone has an opinion, but it’s become popular to share said opinion in a two paragraph Facebook post about why we should or should not be taking action on certain hot-button issues in the news.

I used to express my opinions on sites such as Tumblr about the issues I was passionate about, as well as replying to ignorance on my timelines.

I should have just unfollowed those people, instead of getting angry that someone had a different opinion than me. I didn’t realize how uninformed I was until I got to college. That’s when it hit me.

I was uninformed because I relied on sites such as Twitter and Tumblr to “educate” myself on important issues in the news.

I wasn’t thinking critically about the perspectives that were presented to me. I only paid attention to the ones I wanted to hear. But social media doesn’t have to be negative in terms of spreading basic information.

Social media helps spread information mass media may not have covered otherwise, with examples such as the recent events at the University of Missouri and the hashtag #PourteOuvere, which was offered to Parisian citizens who needed help after the attacks.

People became aware of these events, and many more like them, because of the rapid way information spreads on websites like Twitter.

We are able to share information quicker than ever and make sure that our loved ones are safe, making it a great innovation.

But you shouldn’t rely on social media to educate yourself, because a lot of the narratives that are out there are biased in order to persuade you to side with one end of the political spectrum or the other.

It’s important to think critically about who you’re following and what you’re exposing yourself to on a daily basis.

Remember to be skeptical about the sources you’re reading. Is it your friend’s opinion or a news outlet? Does the news outlet have an agenda they’re trying to push on their readers? These factors are important in how you shape your views.

Furthermore, retweeting someone else’s opinion or putting a flag over your profile picture isn’t always activism. These acts demonstrate solidarity, which is important in times of conflict and loss, but are you doing it to prove a point or because you actually care?

If you really want to make a difference, and you have the time and potentially even money to do so, contribute to your community to help the cause(s) you’re passionate about. Tweeting a hashtag can raise awareness, but it’s simply not enough to make a difference in real life.

If we truly want to be the instigators of positive change, then we need to spread awareness, not only online, but in our real communities as well.