This past April, Dr. David Dao was violently dragged off a United Airlines flight after refusing to give up his seat. Perhaps you’ve seen the video. There are certainly plenty of them available, because once the incident began, the phones came out, and the videos went viral.
The same month, a man in Alabama streamed his suicide on Facebook Live. According to Anthony Lowery, assistant chief deputy with the Baldwin County Sheriff’s Office, the Facebook Live video had over 1,000 views and was even shared a few times.
In 2014, video of the beheading of journalist James Foley was released. People watched. As of this writing, various versions of the video on YouTube have no fewer than 100,000 views.
These days, if there’s something to watch, we’ll watch it—never mind the subject matter. If it’s clickable, we’ll take the bait. If it’s exciting, dramatic, or out of the ordinary, all the better. Online bullying and harassment have, unfortunately, become almost commonplace. The fallout is sometimes tragic and deadly.
But I don’t want to discount social media as the downfall of our society. There is plenty to celebrate. How we choose to use it will make the difference.
Not All Bad
“With great power comes great responsibility.” This well-known quote is certainly one that Pope Francis can get behind. He has repeatedly addressed both the power a the potential pitfalls of social media, saying it “is a gift of God, which involves a great responsibility.
“Social networks can facilitate relationships and promote the good of society, but they can also lead to further polarization and division between individuals and groups. The digital world is a public square, a meeting-place where we can either encourage or demean one another, engage in a meaningful discussion or unfair attacks,” the pope said in his 2016 message for World Day of Social Communications.
Through his own social media accounts, Pope Francis has repeatedly cast a light on the good in the world and encouraged us to do the same. He is not alone in trying to raise the bar when it comes to our online lives, either. Many people and organizations use their online presence to promote what is right with the world. We just need to search those people out and help spread the word.
We can be one of those people who spread a message of hope rather than despair. Perhaps it’s time we stopped and thought about what messages our own social media activity is sending—both to ourselves and to those around us. What would we find if we went back through our social media accounts and browsing histories? What messages are we sending to others through what we post, share, or click? Are we part of the problem?
If so, how can we become part of the solution?
The veil of the computer screen or technological ignorance is no longer a valid excuse. We know our comments reach people. We know that we leave a trail of our choices. We’ve lived in this technologically advanced society long enough now that we should know these things.
And we should know that with our online actions, we are helping to either strengthen or tear apart the fabric of society. Which side of that equation do you want to be on?