All throughout history, the world never seems to catch a break. Whether it be pandemics, wars, conflicts, corruption, pollution, or the ongoing climate crisis that never seems to be ending, people all over have to balance keeping up with world news as well as their own lives. But now, more than ever, teens and adults alike have a new carrier of information—social media. TikTok, Instagram, Reddit, YouTube, or even Facebook are just a few of the names that come up when discussing user-created content.
Users must be careful when browsing social media in regards to world events. In the light of several conflicts happening all over the globe, it’s no surprise that many dedicated activists have taken to the internet stage in order to spread awareness about current issues. Today, many of us share the luxury of having the modern-day equivalent to the Library of Alexandria in our back pockets. But exactly what is everyone saying, and how does that influence the worldviews of people in completely different countries?
While modern politics often function the same way as middle school playground drama, the same can also be said about its bystanders. Not surprisingly, every conflict or political issue is bound to host its own boat of debates, from opinions ranging from mild disagreement to death threats being sent to anyone who dares to disagree.
If you were to take a quick scroll on Instagram reels, for example, you would eventually come across one reel about the Israeli-Palestine conflict going on in the Middle East (assuming Instagram hasn’t censored it yet). As you watch the entire video and even browse the comments, or leave a like to show support for either side, Instagram’s algorithm will now view your interaction with the video as a sign that you are interested in seeing more content, and will slowly begin to show you more and more of the same topic. Before long, most of your doom scrolling journey will be flooded with this one topic.
Though the algorithm can show you the same topic over and over again, there’s no guarantee that it will show you the same opinion, since that would get boring for you, the user, pretty quickly. As a result, you now have heard a vast array of opinions from just about anyone.
The first video you were shown could have been disagreeing with other countries’ interference in the war, arguing that those countries have a particular history of butting their noses where they do not belong. The second could have been encouraging more countries to support one side of the war, in order to show their involvement in human rights in disaster conditions. Similarly, one video could argue that it is okay to opt out of keeping up with the war in order to protect your mental health in fear of getting overwhelmed, while the next could berate you for choosing your “feelings” over the lives of thousands of children.
If you were shown all these videos back-to-back for about all of 10 minutes, (keep in mind that these videos are around 20-45 seconds in order to catch your attention in the first place), you would probably be scrambling to fit yourself into one opinion, even if it is one that was subtly handed to you within the first five minutes of logging into the app.
Your mind tends to find opinions that are the most appealing to all sides as possible as a defense to any criticism, but as you can imagine, this task becomes complicated as you are getting validated and berated in 20 second intervals from a glowing phone screen inches from your face. And as you struggle to find comfort, the social media platform of your choosing has already won, by getting you to stay on the app for any amount of time.
On top of that, videos on social media platforms, not just Instagram like in the example explained earlier, are often short and aggressive, in a tactic that plays according to the rules of the algorithm. Short form videos (videos that are limited to 2 minutes and under and are presented vertically) are designed to get a reaction out of the viewer, whether positive or negative, by getting you to either keep watching, like, share, or leave a comment. This way, the account can continue to gain traction and attention, which is almost always correlated to an increase in their popularity.
When viewing such videos, judge for yourself to see who is using a political situation to their advantage for attention and likes, and who is genuinely trying to gather attention and support. In addition, be sure to check their account and your own sources, which means doing your own research about world events, though these precautions can also apply to visiting news outlets.
In order to carefully consume your content, it takes a lot more thought than absently listening to a figure behind the screen. As you scroll onto a new video, ask yourself questions such as, “who is this person?”, “why are they saying this?”, and “why would I trust this person, is it because they look, act, or talk like me?”. Take a step back from each video to ask yourself what information you are receiving, and consider where it came from. Since many teens and children choose to receive news from social media and not a reputable news outlet, there is plenty of room for misinformation.
The internet is always debating how much we, the general population of citizens in a variety of countries, should be involved in any situation, not just the conflicts thousands of miles away from our homes. Now more than ever, with every epidemic, national conflict, political corruption, the question has always been “How are we supposed to live our lives knowing that thousands of lives are being lost everyday around the world?” This is one of the unfortunate side effects of social media, in which you get to interact so closely with the real people, but are yet so removed from what is really going on.
Inversely, the unmeasurable advantage to social media is knowledge. If people know and are informed, they will care about it, and when they care, it opens doors for action.
If you are currently feeling guilty about any conflict going on in the world, it means that you care about the lives of other people across oceans, lives of people you may not even know. This empathy can easily become action, if you know the next steps. The most effective forms of assistance is spreading correct information and awareness, as well as donating to real charities, even if that donation is small.
It is not realistic or a good idea to expect one person to somehow solve everything and save the world, as if in a high-budgeted movie. However, as people with both education and varying degrees of freedom, you cannot and should not ignore the cries of others in a worse situation than you. After all, if it can happen to them, your rights and livelihood could be next.