Reconsider the growing detrimental nature of social media
In light of recent events such as the live-streamed killing of Robert Goodwin Sr., an important discussion needs to be held on the role of social media in today’s society. While sites like Facebook or Twitter were created with the intention of connecting individuals and creating a platform for sharing ideas, we have collectively strayed from these ideals and turned to more malignant use. With the addition of a feature to broadcast live video, it has become easier for individuals to find an audience for their actions, be it beneficial or not.
One of the most beneficial uses of social media is capturing injustices. In 2016, the shooting of Philando Castile made headlines when his girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, broadcast the incident on Facebook. Audio from the video depicts an exchange between Castile and Officer Jeronimo Yanez before the shots were fired. According to a Sept. 23, 2016 article in CNN, since 2005, 77 officers have been charged with manslaughter for on-duty killings, while only 23 were actually convicted. This may be due to inability to substantiate evidence or falsified reports, however, with new technology and tangible evidence, there exists a chance to improve these conditions. As a result of this evidence, Yanez was arrested and charged with second-degree manslaughter, according to a Nov. 16, 2016 New York Times article. Similarly, in the case of Steve Stephens, who killed Robert Godwin Sr., social media was used for his own conviction. After posting the gruesome video, his image went viral and police were able to find him two days after the initial attack.
On the other hand, the ability to post videos with a live audience could prove to be detrimental. In Stephens’ case, he addressed his ex-girlfriend during the video, citing her as his cause for wanting to kill. He knew that this would garner attention and hoped to have a captive enough audience that would not only watch his crime, but aid in his shifting the blame. In a separate incident, a 13-year-old was on Instagram Live playing with a gun in his home when he accidentally shot and killed himself. According to an April 13 article in USA Today, a viewer asked why the gun did not have a clip and instructed him to insert one. Following the advice, he did and fatally shot himself. Granted, these two accounts are completely different circumstances, but the premise is the same. Had they not had the option to behave irrationally online, with a captive audience, they may not have made such rash decisions.
Though posting videos of crimes online gives others an idea of what’s going on in the world in real-time, the influx of it has reached a point where we are almost desensitized. According to an April 4 NPR article, a 15 year old was sexually assaulted by two young men on Facebook Live while 40 people watched — no one reported anything to authorities. Why have we become so used to seeing traumatic events on our screens that no one even thinks to help or react when someone is in danger? According to a July 15, 2016 New York Times article, “living in a digitally linked world where broadcasts of violence are instantaneous and almost commonplace means that many of us are becoming desensitized.” The article also claims that this overexposure to violence has created an increased sense of anxiety and paranoia. The responsibility of improvement falls not only on the user but also on the minds behind the social media sites as well.Though the exposure to violence is nothing, the advent of social media makes it nearly impossible to escape.
According to an April 19 Boston Globe article, Facebook’s primary source of censorship comes from users who flag any content they find offensive, but to date, there is nothing in place to more efficiently catch and remove offensive content. Even if such an algorithm existed, it raises the issue of censorship and who can determine what content is offensive or not. While assault or other crimes are obviously unfit to be shown on social media, where is the line drawn? For example, a video or image that one might deem sexually explicit might not be viewed the same way by another person. The goal is not to censor users and stifle their expression, but rather to simply create a safer environment where individuals are not forced to see death on a regular basis. According to a January 13, 2015 article in Daily Mail, Facebook implemented a warning system before videos that have been flagged or deemed inappropriate by other users. It reads, “Videos that contain graphic content can shock, offend and upset. Are you sure you want to see this?” Meanwhile, it blocks the video entirely for users under the age of 18. While these warnings are useful, they do not solve the issue of violent content, one that seems to have no feasible solution. Our only option is to monitor our social media intake and take appropriate action when needed.