April 28, 2014
Social media was never intended to bring about social change. However, as we became more comfortable with the various tools available to us, users began leveraging the networks to discuss issues that were swept aside from public dialogue. Topics that were often relegated to talking heads on television and students in university classrooms could now be debated and arbitrated by anyone with an internet connection.
This explosion of public discussion eventually catalyzed change at a pace only matched by the burst in popularity of the networks that hosted the conversation. The popular push for marriage equality across the world has been widely attributed to the movement’s proponents’ reach and popularity on social media. According to polls conducted by The Washington Post and ABC News, support for same-sex marriage has risen from 37% in 2003 to 59% in 2014. Of course, this is one of many examples.
It’s important to note that the internet’s potential to be misused to spread hate remains a common, and very real, fear. Nonetheless, we are blessed to live in a period of time where intolerance is, more often then not, rejected by the masses at a speed that was never before imaginable. Accepted behavior of years gone by would not pass today’s litmus test of Twitter opinion.
One has to wonder if violent moments of spontaneous strife in America’s past such as the Rodney King riots could have been prevented if people had the possibilities for voicing discontent that they have today. Or, perhaps, such instances of mass protest would have been more common, as demonstrated by the Occupy Movement and the wave of social media fueled unrest that spread across the Middle East.
It’s for all these reasons that I am fascinated by a phenomenon that has been highlighted by tonight’s trending topics on social media where users are casually discussing a television show that, arguably, epitomizes our misogynistic and prejudiced mentality of yesteryear, while slamming one of the most shocking examples of what remains from that very same history. We (yes, I am including myself) are enthusiastically comparing notes of the seventh season of Mad Men and simultaneously ensuring that hate is booted to the sidelines of the NBA.
I’m yet to find an explanation for this contradiction.
Perhaps our appetite for television that showcases hateful attitudes is a communal way of burning bridges to a past we never want to see again? Is it indicative of lingering undercurrents or does society simply now have the ability to clearly delineate between entertainment and reality?
Maybe there is no deeper meaning to this convergence of two universes, and the shared last name of these stories’ leading characters is nothing more than an amusing coincidence.
What do you think? Is social media a fair measurement of society’s feelings towards universal acceptance or is our continuous taste for entertainment depicting our less than tolerant past a more accurate barometer?