New Zealand has undoubtedly been touched by a deeply traumatic event. The events have brought to light the viral and seemingly uncontrollable nature of social media platforms. Amongst this, there is an obvious ‘call to account’ for those running social media platforms.
I read a number of headlines targeting social media platforms – with questionable bias from ‘traditional media’. Whilst Facebook, YouTube and others should be accountable for what is shared on their platforms, we should not lose sight of our own responsibility for what we interact with on social media. Where they have been found lacking in technology, procedures and algorithms to prevent the distribution of insensitive content, we are often equally lacking in our personal responsibility to not engage and propagate. This isn’t a new phenomenon, we’ve seen trolling, sharing of invasive content and the rise of the keyboard warrior since the wider adoption of the internet. Social Media, however, has its hungry algorithms tuned in a way that seems particularly inhumane and exploitable.
In times of crisis or drama, it appears we often find ourselves caught up in an ‘excitement’ of adrenaline and dopamine, a misguided attempt to reach out to those suffering? Compulsively sharing, liking and commenting, trying to be part of the story. There was a similar flood of social media in the Christchurch earthquakes. As the drama unfolds, social media appears to excite our needs for our dopamine as a vehicle to somehow ‘be involved’. The social media response has intrigued me to understand what emotions, instincts and motivations could be at play to have people share and engage with such invasive content.
Does what’s happened keep you from acting with justice, generosity, self-control, sanity, prudence, honesty, humility, straightforwardness, and all other qualities that allow a person’s nature to fulfill itself? So remember this principle when something threatens to cause you pain: the thing itself was no misfortune at all; to endure it and prevail is great good fortune. – Marcus Aurelius
So as I ponder, I wonder how we can play our responsible role and not share, like or comment on that which is abhorrent, invasive or more simply; poor taste. In the rush to get the dopamine or adrenaline hit and be part of what is unfolding it is too easy to dehumanize the victims and in times of great crisis invade what should be a much less public situation. The algorithms in place on social media platforms gorge on our interaction, something we should be avidly aware of. Is sharing, liking and commenting a compassionate act when a crisis occurs, or simply our desire to be part of the story,?
It’s also a time to realize that both the ‘traditional media’ outlets and social media gain an incredible amount of income when these events unfold through increased visitors and site interactions. As far as I know not a single New Zealand online media outlet postponed their in article advertising as they created an endless overwhelming stream of articles and opinion. So to my rationale, they are the least qualified to question social media. Did legalities rather than ethics prevent them from playing the same role as social media?
You must be a unified human being, either good or bad. You must diligently work either on your own reasoning or on other things out of your control – take great care with the inside and not what’s outside. – Epictetus
I took a moment to privately reflect on the unfolding events and largely avoided anything on social media. For myself, moments like this are for quiet compassion. Being too far away to be of assistance, is this the only humane response?
That which is not good for the swarm is not good for the bee either. – Epictetus
This particular Epictetus quote came to mind as days passed and we were challenged by various extreme opinions and arguments. Epictetus presents a timely reminder of the connected nature of all of us. I’m encouraged that at least publicly New Zealand has united with a renewed understanding of our diversity grasping the underlying humanity which unites us and our need to be one.