With our new president legitimizing fake news and promoting cyber bullying, social media is no longer an innocent timewaster.
Social media is as much a part of today’s culture as sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll was for baby boomers; I’m as addicted to it as any other millennial. Donald Trump even seems to have been taken hold by the global social media addiction — sometimes tweeting about people he hates during the wee hours of the morning. While it can bridge gaps between distant friendships and give the voiceless a means to express their opinion, social media is well on its way to destroying truth and civility thanks to Trump.
I’m not just being dramatic.
The Oxford Dictionaries’ word of the year for 2016 was “post-truth,” which refers to the time when emotion and personal beliefs are more influential than objective facts. While social media has been around for years, Trump finally opened the door for the rise of this post-truth world in which we live by propping up emotion, personal belief and fake news higher than honest journalism and cold facts.
Fake news is currently having a heyday after the last election cycle. I remember seeing some of my Facebook friends sharing a legitimate-looking news story in September 2016 with the headline “Pope Francis Shocks World, Endorses Donald Trump for President.” This story was completely false, but it had garnered enough likes and shares on Facebook that it went viral, and some people started to believe it.
Trump built his political career by perpetrating the unsubstantiated story that President Barack Obama was born in Kenya with Muslim roots. Besides retweeting many fake news articles during the election, Trump often made up his own fake news, like the time he claimed there were thousands of Muslims cheering after 9/11.
Trump could have used his platform to condemn fake news and lies, but instead, he continually attacked the legitimate media for publishing the truth. He recently even called CNN “fake news” at a press conference for publishing a story that didn’t make him look good. Trump also praised Alex Jones, a radio commentator turned social media juggernaut who perpetrated the story that Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were “literal demons” who smelled like sulfur.
According to a Buzzfeed News report, the top 20 fake news stories on Facebook generated over 1.5 million more shares, comments and reactions than the top 20 legitimate news stories during the last three months of the election. Having oftentimes been validated by our new president, the fake news revolution on social media is stamping out the honest journalism that a democracy needs to survive.
Trump has also seemingly destroyed basic human decency by allowing cyber bullying to flourish. Read any comment section on social media, and you’ll see how hateful people can be toward each other while hiding behind their unassuming username and avatar.
When I was in high school, the boys in my grade created a Facebook page where they would rate the girls in the school based on their looks, sometimes ruthlessly making fun of them. While none of them would likely criticize their classmates to their face, social media gave them a platform to freely attack whomever they wanted without consequences.
Trump has exemplified a similar amount of immaturity on social media as my high school classmates by attacking things as trivial as the appearances of his opponents. The New York Times counted 305 different people, places and things Trump has insulted on Twitter before his inauguration. This includes calling Clinton “nasty,” Meryl Streep “overrated,” Obama “insane” and Megyn Kelly a “bimbo.” My high school classmates actually had a bigger vocabulary in their social media insults than our new president.
Social media started out innocently with scores of funny cat videos and lifestyle quizzes to waste time with. However, because of our insistence to include social media in nearly every aspect of our lives, it has taken on a life of its own and has allowed lies in the form of fake news and hate in the form of cyber bullying to spread far and wide.
Trump has become the face of everything wrong with social media and has won the highest office in America because of it. While it’s unlikely humanity will stop using social media anytime soon, we can at least ignore Trump and any other cyber bullies or fake news broadcasters on social media.
Only by turning a blind eye to Trump and any other troll on social media will we begin to starve the fake news sites of our clicks and the cyber bullies of the attention they crave.