The past two weeks have been very interesting, and throughout the process, I have been able to draw many parallels between what we have discussed in our in-class conversations and what I have been reading about online through forums like Twitter.
Something that we discussed in class that was particularly interesting was the notion of “going viral,” and what that means in today’s world. We looked at a few cases, but one that stood out to me specifically was the story behind United Airlines. About two weeks ago, a passenger on a United flight was forced to de-board the overbooked plane. The catch to the story, though, is that he never agreed to de-boarding the plane – this was a forced act that made him uncomfortable. They ultimately called police onto the plane to force the process, and this resulted in vulgar acts and severe wounds. Some people even claim that the passenger was tranquilized as he muttered strange words and seemed to be extremely weak.
Regardless, what was fascinating about this entire story was not the fact that some Americans are so senseless as to disregard the personal space and legal binding to a ticket on an airplane, but the fact that the story took off – literally, overnight. When we came to class the day that it had begun trending on Twitter, almost everyone had already known about it. So how does this exactly work? In today’s world, we are so interconnected that it becomes second nature to be constantly aware of the big social phenomenons taking place in our society. Maybe Trump signed a new bill that will heavily influence oil and gas regulation, maybe the pitcher for the Detroit Tigers had a gruesome ankle sprain, or maybe Oprah Winfrey is starting her show again. Today, we have a way of spreading word, and we do this through forums like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.
After hearing about this, I kept my eyes peeled for an indicator of this occurring for my blog topic, coral reef preservation. Interestingly enough, one of the people I have followed, Terry Hughes (who has actually liked my posts on Twitter before), released a study that he conducted on the Great Barrier Reef. The study concluded that the reef is in its “terminal stage,” indicating that there is not much time left for the reef to heal if coral bleaching continues into the near future. While I saw his initial post about his findings, it was even more interesting to see how quickly it went viral – and I mean fast. Within less than 24 hours, I saw posts from major news corporations on Google, I saw posts on Yahoo’s front page, and I saw all of the marine scientists that I follow on Twitter going ballistic in conversation threads on Twitter. All in all, what was the most remarkable and rewarding throughout this process was not only to see a direct comparison to what we had just spoken about in class, but more importantly to see that some things that are important and must be known can go viral. While many of the news articles that go viral can be trashy news bits about celebrities marrying other celebrities, this article from Terry Hughes was extremely important for people in the world to know – and by going viral, they now know.
On a completely different note, it was also great to discuss the influence that you can have over social media posts and conversations through the framing of your argument. Most of the time, the posts that I have seen online regarding coral reef preservation have been framed in a way that makes the matter seem extremely urgent and pressing. In other words, the activists that I follow try to make it sound like reefs will be gone in the next 2-3 year if we, as a whole, do not shape up now. What is interesting to this is that while I know that this is (for the most part) very true, the average Twitter user who knows very little about coral reefs will take this urgency at face value. In this case, that is a very good thing – the framing of the issue by the coral reef activists is crucial and very necessary in letting the public know that reefs are in bad shape.
What scares me, however, is that individuals can frame issues in ways that may be detrimental to society and lead us down dangerous paths. For example, if a group of individuals in the United States organized a “trend” utilizing false data to prove that high cellphone usage is correlated with high brain cancer rates, this could potentially blow up in a very bad way. Individuals worried about the problem might begin calling their doctors frantically, well known authors in the medical community might take their time to debunk the issue and calm down individuals around the world, and many more.
As a whole, I have realized from our class discussions that framing is crucial in telling a story, and it is up to the individual to be ethical and understanding of the power contained in social media. Hopefully going forward we will see activists, like the coral reef activists I follow, framing issues in a way that pushes humanity forward in a positive direction.