There is no doubt the Internet, social media and 24-hour news cycle have completely changed our society. Has it changed in a negative or positive way? Although I’ve never known a world without the Internet, I must argue it has changed for the better. There are downsides to every transition, but overall the Internet had created a more transparent, connected and honest society.
Because we are all tuned into our smart phones and tablets, it is almost impossible to be unaware of current events and social issues. The constant news cycle allows everyone to be informed, with every available detail, and form an educated opinion in a timely manner. More and more people are getting involved with politics and social causes than ever before because news spreads like wild fire online. Every individual’s thoughts can be heard and considered. Activist groups, political groups and cultural groups clearly explain what they stand for and what they are against, especially through social media. With all of the information out there, we have the ability to decide what we as individuals stand for and consider right and wrong.
A counter argument could be that some people can not control themselves or keep rude and ignorant opinions to themselves. But isn’t that fundamentally being honest? In a perfect world, everyone would abide by an online code of ethics like the NPR social media code of ethics, but this is the real world. Even if the Internet did not exist, people would still have and express those opinions, but with a smaller reach. A smaller reach equals less controversy.
It is difficult to hide racism, sexism, homophobia or any type of ignorance online and on social media. But that is a good thing. It means our society has become more honest and transparent. No one wants to see their mistakes or biases go public, but those mistakes reveal what the majority of society does and does not consider ethical and/or moral. Take the recent Oklahoma University racism chant scandal for example. It is so important for people who are in the wrong to be exposed. In order to end any type of bigotry, our society must learn that you don’t have to agree with everyone’s opinions and beliefs, you must respect and accept them. The only exception is if those beliefs and opinions are resulting in self-inflicted pain.
The fact that everything online inevitably stays online and turns into public information should make every user think twice before they post. You don’t want to make a mistake and ruin your career (or life) like Justine Sacco did:
Everyone must to be careful on social media. On a positive note social media and online forums are the perfect tool to give voice to the voiceless. It is impossible to silence a minority or activist group on the Internet because it would be considered unethical. The Constitution protects our freedom of speech. Therefore, in this case what is legal is also ethical. In 2014 alone, there were countless social media movements that provided awareness and brought change. A few were #BringBackOurGirls after the terrorist kidnapping of 300 Nigerian schoolgirls, #IceBucketChallenge to raise awareness for ALS, and #Ferguson in light of the Michael Brown shooting. Without the Internet, our society would not be as educated, connected, honest or advanced as it is today.