GABRIELA DEL POZO, THE SUNDAY TIMES (Expository)
It seems strange that a tool that was designed to bring people together is now used to tear them apart. We are left wondering what got corrupted first, social media or society? However, this question distracts us from tackling the consequences of social media in our tumultuous society.
According to J.M Berger, a specialist on extremism from the George Washington University, Twitter is now hosting more than 40,000 tweets that praise or lend support to the Islamic State. This statistic outlines the shocking support for IS around the globe. Citizens are even more concerned of the glorification of violent acts committed by IS on twitter. IS combatant casually expose mass bombings, beheadings and torture for all to see.
So, why are over 40,000 people supporting such a violent group? It has little to do with individuality itself and more with social. According to psychologist Albert Bandura, “it requires conducive social conditions rather than monstrous people to produce atrocious deeds. Given appropriate social conditions, decent, ordinary people can be led to do extraordinarily cruel things.” So basically, everyone has it in them to become violent and savage. This is where social media indirectly collaborates to radicalize average citizens. People with anger towards the government are easily swayed and motivated to join extremist groups like IS.
This happens because of “homophily” which is a tendency to listen to and associate with people like yourself, and to exclude outsiders. Social media does not help us empathise with people unlike ourselves and instead surrounds us with those that share our points of view. These echo chambers only reinforce our biases. This is worsened by the fact that social media users are not passive observers; we are all now information creators, collectors, and distributors. Civilians in conflict areas can take and publish inflammatory photos and unknowingly fuel someone’s anger, leading them to become something far from a decent citizen.
The more we learn about behaviour on social media, the more we realise how reality is not as simple as it appears. A problem this big cannot simply be resolved just by censoring some tweets or accounts because of the vast domain of the internet.
None of these issues has an easy answer. Yet these are the dilemmas that will come to define the social-media age as it confronts the timeless challenge of war. Sooner or later governments will be forced to face the problems this new era presents and reckon that censorship is just not enough nowadays.