Triggerhappy Commentary: The Reactionary Nature of Social Media and the Transformation of Societal Response
While fake news, trolls, and millennial culture are the most often blamed side effects of social media, the reactionary nature of the medium has gone overlooked as the main culprit for a larger societal problem. The immediate and instantaneous qualities of social media, for better and for worse, allow for information (regardless of accuracy) to travel around the world like no other time in history. But the reaction to said information is also travelling at the speed of your bandwidth, with real time responses fueling social movements, collective judgment, and increasing polarization in all aspects of life. What is missing from the equation is simple: thoughtfulness. Data needs to be processed before it can be useful, and current events must do the same in our collective conscience. Instantaneous reactions spell doom for actual thought pieces, and instead social media news feeds are flooded with half baked ideas written by anyone and everyone with access to the internet. The oversaturation of commentary has created a culture of fatigue. For this project we will be exploring how the reactionary nature of social media is causing a shift in human behavior, or in fact creating new behaviors in the growing number of participants in online discourse. We will examine a specific event on social media through its instant reaction, the impact of the reaction on those involved in the conversation, and the sentiment several weeks later. For example, the recent Executive Order banning immigration from seven Muslim majority nations has inspired a large and polarized reaction from various sects of society. While the sentiment around the order itself may not change much from the immediate aftermath to the present, false information (whether intentional or not) spread about the details of the order and the number of people affected at airports quickly disseminated across social media and amplified the intensity of people’s reactions. The consequences of social media in this situation are thereby more difficult to understand. Did the spread of this information cause protestors and those sympathetic to give money or time to the cause? Did it mask Islamophobic currents within the far right to those moderates unable to see the ban as targeting Muslims? What is the responsibility of the platform (Twitter, Facebook, etc.) in managing these unintended consequences? We will mine the data around several hashtags during different times, allowing the chain of reaction to guide our broader research question about social media’s impact on behavior. Through a visualization of the social media data we collect, we hope to show the class an alternative and more nuanced approach to the study of social media while avoiding the traps of becoming a millennial-bashing luddite or tech industry sycophant whose bubble never burst.