Social media’s shadow


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The world doesn’t revolve around our own trivial problems, nor the pot-stirring celebrity tweets and political remarks. Sometimes it’s okay to let real emotion take over and feel sadness and sympathy for the deaths of innocent people.

I posted these sentiments on my Facebook wall after being overwhelmed by the events that occurred a couple of weeks ago in Beirut, Lebanon, and Paris, France. What hit the hardest that Saturday, as I sat on the couch scrolling through the endless articles on my computer, was not that these attacks had happened. No, it was the outpour of uninformed opinions, political agendas, and calls-to-action that struck me dumbfounded.

In just a few hours, the internet had been taken over by people, including many of my peers at the University of San Diego, who had so much to say about what should have been done to stop the attacks, what laws the U.S. should be passing to prevent our own bloody future, and which religious groups were to be held in complete responsibility for the terror. Very few articles or social media posts simply and purely expressed heartfelt sentiments for the lives that were lost. All the attention was on retaliation.

We live in a technology-driven society, one that makes it easy to disconnect ourselves from the non-virtual world. The amount of information that is readily available and constantly updated may make it too easy to form quick judgments and brash decisions. Politicians such as Donald Trump took to their Twitter accounts shortly after news of Paris was released, offering prayers and thoughts alongside their own campaign boosting remarks.

“They laughed at me when I said to bomb the ISIS controlled oil fields,” Trump’s tweet said. “Now they are not laughing and doing what I said. #Trump2016.”

Two hours later, Trump posted another tweet that echoed the familiar sentiments of other campaign leaders, celebrities, and concerned citizens.

“My prayers are with the victims and hostages in the horrible Paris attacks,” Trump’s tweet said. “May God be with you all.”

Sure, it doesn’t hurt to send thoughts and prayers out to the victims and loved ones off the attacks. But does it help? How do any comments posted through social media help the people who are directly affected by the bombings, shootings, refugee crisis, and natural disasters that are plaguing our world? The reality is sad, but true: they don’t. Unless our comments lead us to action, then our prayers are just words and our thoughts are simply empty.

While some comments and posts simply offer condolences to victims, others stir up more trouble in the wake of already precarious situations. The general public gets their information from the news and from social media, and they take their stances based on these sources without a second thought. However, while they are busy getting riled up about gun laws and border control, they aren’t doing anything productive to aid in or against these efforts.

Senior Laurel Gardner said that she believes that social media is a tool people use to make themselves feel good about their contribution.

“They think they’re helping, but they’re not really doing anything to help the situation,” Gardner said. “They’re just spreading propaganda. It’s like being involved with the lowest level of involvement.”

If people care enough about something, they should work towards making that change. Typing a few angry words out on a computer doesn’t make a change, but volunteering or donating might. And, if that seems like an extreme measure to take, maybe they should not be expressing their opinions so veraciously in the first place.

People change their profile pictures for a week to include a Paris flag filter. They complain about the state of the world on Facebook and attack opposing opinions on Twitter. Then, a couple weeks later, they slowly forget about it. The feelings of devastation, overwhelming sadness, anger, and hope which were propagated by social media fade away as newsfeeds instead fill up with holiday recipes and funny cat videos again.

The influence that social media has on people, especially college students, is dangerous as our lives move and follow the social scripts set for us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. In this sense, natural disasters and terrorist attacks have become trends. These trends take the world by storm, then fade away, leaving us behind a screen, waiting with our fingers hovering above the keyboard for the next one to blow through.