Historically, women have been a powerless group and today this social marginalisation still exists. Yet over time, we have seen the power of the establishment of social media, providing a platform of exchange for those discriminated against to share their experiences with the rest of the world – giving a voice to the voiceless.
Suddenly there are new voices every day. New, because previously the teller had been of course, voiceless. Moreover, there are ears that are listening from all parts of the world and perpetrators can’t as easily escape their wrongdoings. Men can’t as easily get away with the abuse of women as they have in the past. The surfacing of movements such as #MeToo has opened up a discussion about sexual assault and has meant that women can empower one another and express their views with more support. What I believe is truly remarkable about the voice that social media has given us, is that it’s a voice that no figure of authority is powerful enough to silence. The voice has a life of its own once that button is pressed and the post is sent. It feeds through retweets, likes and shares on its mission to deliver a message and make a change. It is through this coming together of people from all walks of life that the voice becomes louder.
If I were to look at social media from an economic point of view (which is a tendency of mine as an economics student) to explore how it has grown so rapidly with millions of new users signing up to the likes of Twitter and Facebook every day, I would firstly look at consumer demand. Clearly through entrepreneurial skill, its developers have created a product that consumers desire. What problems do the consumption of this good (social media) address and what utility does the consumption of this good provide to be desired by consumers in the first place? One stance is that it is a form of entertainment that can address boredom. It is also a place to get noticed which can address the feeling of being ignored.
I’m a teen that logs onto Twitter most days and I have witnessed for myself how social media encourages creativity amongst young people and enables us to establish a place for ourselves in a world that is susceptible of dismissing our views on the basis of our age. The platform gives our voices a better chance of being heard instead of simply ignored. More politicians using social media sites has meant for easier interaction with the public and increasing accountability for their actions. This has also meant that social media has become a new medium for more young people to grow their awareness of political issues and world news. An unlikely commonplace for teenagers to read news articles in a convenient manner is on Snapchat. Just as we can read news faster, we can respond faster too. One person can write their opinion on what is going on around them and another person can hit the reply button to disagree. This can even find like-minded people and form friendships or business connections.
Moreover, social media has allowed for the documentation of events, where it’s users can post stories or videos to share with their followers. With the portability of their smartphones, as soon as someone sees something worth talking about, they can video it so others can witness it too. Growing up, I remember stories with great moral messages being relayed by my headteacher in assemblies. One such story that has stuck with me was that of bystanders in a playground, giving the bully the attention he wanted to continue with name-calling. It took just one individual having the knowledge of how to act in such a situation, telling a teacher, to put an end to the repetitive bullying. Now this propels me to think of the bystander effect, ‘a social psychological phenomenon in which individuals are less likely to offer help to a victim when other people are present’. Arguably it is just as bad to be the bystander as it is to be the bully. Martin Luther King Jr. once noted, ‘We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.’ Despite this, we have started to see an opposite pattern in social media that breaks away from this mould, in which there becomes a strength in numbers. People seem more inclined to not let a destructive comment go undisputed online. A video showcasing mistreatment can face backlash from online users and people may repost these on their own profiles to increase awareness. This strength in numbers on social media has created a realm of powerful voices where we perceive less bystanders.
Another important aspect of social media is that it has let young people open up about issues such as their mental health and sexuality. Providing one’s own encounters on social media has not only increased voices online but the voices outside of this domain as well. With more information available, the stigma behind such topics can be countered with facts, and people such as those that identify as LGBTQ+ face less fear in their everyday lives to be honest about who they are. As I sign into my twitter today, I see #LGBTSTEMDay on the trending page. There are photos embracing the rainbow pride flag and of STEM students sitting on the steps of a university sharing a rainbow layer cake at an event. There is an informative video from professionals that have faced discrimination in the workplace. There are comments about how young people require role models, in order to increase gender and racial diversity in professions, on a post where a woman describes working in a male-dominated industry. Diversity and knowledge are being celebrated with companies recognising and showcasing support for members of their workforce and it is in these ways that today another voice will be created.
Excellent. Gave me a new viewpoint where I thought I did not need one. That’s always fascinating.
What’s very interesting about the bystander effect is that though with social media you can see a greater number of people online arguing against immoral actions, there is this idea of a digital bystander effect too. Since instead of intervening in the real moment, people are recording it and taking a stance online instead of in reality. So there is a question over whether it is more good or bad.