The war on social media

Like most students, I get the majority of my information about international events from the web, and more frequently social media.

By following a variety of news outlets on Twitter, I can quickly gain multiple perspectives about emerging stories. And if something piques my interest, I can click a link to get a more in-depth understanding of certain worldly goings-on.

Perhaps I’ve been spending too much time online in a desperate attempt to put-off my mounting piles of schoolwork, but it seems as if it’s becoming more difficult to navigate between legitimate sources and errant spam.

Social media is lauded as a democratizing force on the World Wide Web. Bear with me through my communication studies jargon, but are Web 2.0 platforms like Facebook and Twitter, really enabling positive social and political discussion?

Or are these sites, in the words of one of my professors, becoming toxic wastelands, which incite hate and lead to a dizzying sense of information overload for all users.

In light of the rising tensions between Israel and Gaza, it seems as if the latter is becoming true.

My newsfeed is filled with hate-filled memes, comics and infographs from wannabe pundits on both sides of the conflict.

I understand that people want to show solidarity with the side they support, but is sharing a vaguely emotional   status or low-quality image (that looks like it was created on Microsoft Paint) really the best way to make a political statement?

Further, many of the images currently being shared are un-sourced, diminishing their validity and power as a political message.

When you post on Facebook or Twitter, or other social media sites, you are putting information into the public sphere. Hashtags and hyperlinks contribute to the global conversation surrounding events.

Your posts act as a lens through which your friends and followers can gain a glimpse of your perspective on the conflict because if you aren’t trying to make a statement, why post something in the first place?

I’m not advocating for people to stop posting about the conflict. In fact, the very idea that all people (with access to the internet) can make a statement is rather exciting.

However, individual statements, posts and Tweets should be well informed so they can help facilitate constructive, open dialogue rather than creating a hateful dichotomy between the two sides.

I’m hopeful that people will become as frustrated as me by the garbage dump that is their newsfeed, and will be more critical of the information that they choose to share.

Further, for the first time ever a war is being waged through social media as the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) and Palestinian militant groups tweet updates in real time.

As overseas spectators of the conflict, we become privy to carefully mediated information stemming directly from the two opposing forces.

With the conflict unraveling in real-time through Twitter, as the IDF and Palestinian militants interestingly respond to each other’s tweets, the events become easier to follow as they’re disseminated through a medium much more relevant to a younger demographic.

Perhaps this is why my newsfeed has become so polarized. Instead of relying on traditional news sources, young people can navigate through their social networks to gain information.

As news outlets are largely regulated, there is a sense of legitimacy behind what they release, despite any biases that may be present.

Social media is open to anyone, so the onus falls on the user to filter through the information that they receive.

The user must distinguish what’s relevant, and this becomes increasingly difficult due to the seemingly infinite amount of available information.

To begin remedying this information overload, we, individual users, can become critical of what we’re sharing to ensure that we’re fostering constructive criticism and discussion rather than blatant hate.

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