Is Social Media De-Humanising Our Reaction To Crises?

07/09/2016 17:29
Sharon Lapkin via Getty Images

As a so-called 'millennial', social media and the internet are inescapable parts of life.

We know more about remote parts of the planet than ever before, and as Mark Zuckerberg likes to point out, we are more connected today than any previous time in history - all thanks to him of course.

And we use these platforms to express ourselves, often in overwhelmingly positive ways.

After the horrendous attacks in Paris, Facebook was filled by new profile pictures with a French flag on top. During the ongoing migrant crisis, online petitions have abounded to try to get the government to do something about the horrible situation. Both provided a way to show support in whatever small way was possible.

Undoubtedly, social media has led to some incredible actions for aid and helping people in need across the planet. But while social media has improved awareness, it hasn't necessarily improved how we think about and react to crises.


Sometimes we believe that we can resolve our reaction to a crisis with a like, comment or share - and by doing this, are we really just distancing ourselves further from these hard-hitting crises?

Is social media de-humanising our reaction to them?

When we see a celebrity post that his or her "prayers are with" the victims of a disaster, we frantically like and share the post. And write our own. And we feel good about that.

We know about every massacre in great detail. Plastered across social media is another school shooting, another terrorist attack. Have the recurring incidents in America ever made you feel like they all just blend into one?

This increasing spotlight on massacres that make them seem more common by the day has made us more disconnected from the reality of them - and made our reaction to them less human.

It seems as if they are something far away, something distant. We can show our support or outrage from our own homes on our phone, with a comment or retweet; but it is harder and harder to see victims as individuals.

And this has meant we are becoming less sensitive to violence and massacres. They are becoming a normal part of life in this connected planet. They don't truly shock us as much as they should.

And not only is our reaction becoming less human - but we are letting our reactions be limited and controlled by these tech behemoths on which we now live so much of our lives.

By condensing our feelings on a topic in one of the 5 reactions on Facebook, or a retweet, or even a status; we are letting them decide the terms on which we respond.

This is a frightening thought, as companies that are essentially built around making profit and selling your advertising space now define the terms on which you react to the most significant events in the world.

And what they show us is not always representative. Research has shown that Facebook's algorithm for its news feed deliberately shows positive, uplifting news ahead of other content.

So when the Black Lives Matter movement took off after events in Ferguson in 2014, Facebook was not filled with posts relating to it. Instead, data provided by SimpleReach showed that videos of the ALS Ice Bucket challenge were more popular.

A brilliant cause nonetheless, but a real social movement was relegated to the fringes - because it didn't attract enough likes.

This post is not intended as a lecture to tell people "you're doing it all wrong." In fact, this problem isn't necessarily our fault. We are so encapsulated in social media as a crucial part of our existence we can't help being influenced by it.

It is important that we take time to think more carefully. That may be by taking other actions such as protesting, or even just by deeper consideration and more thought on the subject.

So decide consciously the way you want to react - don't let it be decided for you.