Social media: a phrase that many of us have now coined to describe our favorite pastime during class or lunch breaks. While most of us are used to pulling out our phones and scrolling aimlessly through Twitter every 20 minutes, we are forgetting just how influential this platform can be. Clay Shirky mentions that the Internet denotes the “largest increase in expressive capability in human history,” highlighting how anyone can hop online and talk with friends about something they witnessed during the day (TED-Ed, 2012). It’s as simple as that: get online, type your 140-character story and WHOOSH – the “Post” button becomes your detonator. Choose to publish something that can benefit the greater good? The detonator reveals retweets and likes that share breaking news with the world. Choose to post accusations or defamatory claims about someone? The detonator emits a blast that has the force to take down careers. Shirky describes how the Internet enables us to become both producers and consumers, and in our current culture, this privilege is completely abused (TED-Ed, 2012). While some individuals use this power to spread calls to action and expose us to the harsh realities in the world, others see an opportunity to ruin lives with no just cause. We have to understand that by taking that power into our hands, we need to make the conscious decision to do what is right.
In recent years, companies have used campaigns to create impactful discussions in online communities. Budweiser released a commercial back in 2014 that conveyed how drinking and driving can hurt more than just yourself. The ad features a man leaving for a party and leaving his dog behind, only for the dog to be left waiting overnight for his owner to return. The ad ends with a beautiful twist, as the owner walks in and tells his furry friend that he chose to stay the night instead of driving home. As soon as the ad went live, it received hundreds of thousands of views and became a top Internet headline due to its powerful message. This is the type of content that shows the beauty of social media. Thanks to these platforms, the ad continued to circulate online, spreading the life-saving message while also warming viewers’ hearts.
Similarly, Mattel has worked mental health issues into its Barbie brand, with Barbie starting her own “vlog channel” and talking about how it is okay to feel sad sometimes. With Barbie being so appealing to younger children, the vlog helps kids who may feel trapped by their thoughts to know they are not alone. The video is hailed as being “exactly what we need in a time where video is taking over all our social media channels,” and it went on to receive over a million views (Rekstis, 2018). It is so easy to use your platform for positive messaging, and these brands have made an influential mark on the social sphere.
Looking at the opposite side unveils an ugly virtual world. While not an intended “campaign” by any means, the Internet essentially collapsed during the James Charles – Tati Westbrook feud of 2019. Tati Westbrook’s “BYE SISTER” video claimed that fellow beauty YouTuber James Charles went behind her back during a brand deal and exhibited predatory behavior towards straight men. Before people had the chance to watch the whole thing, Tati’s video was already the most trending topic on Twitter. Hashtags started to circle, such as “#byesister” and “#JamesCharlesiscancelled.” Charles’s subscriber count plummeted by MILLIONS before he could even offer his side of the story. In a matter of hours, Charles was watching his career crumble around him. Alex Abad-Santos describes the situation perfectly, saying “the platform may reward authenticity…yet the YouTube audience can just as easily flip the script” (2019). The drama did settle and Charles regained most of his lost subscribers, but fans still watch his channel with a cautious eye to this day. This is an example of the abuse we see with social media. If you give people the chance to create their own content and spread news in seconds, these perks can quickly be flipped to tear others down for “likes.”
In this digital age, everyone should receive a bit of social media training. Obviously, it is not easy to change people’s thoughts and feelings, but everyone needs to understand the power of the fuse they hold. When you have the chance to potentially change the outcome of crucial events, don’t you want to be on the right side of history? If people choose to use social media for good, our world could see a tech revolution that can further advance news stations, brand marketing and more. However, leave someone troublesome in charge of the buttons, and social media may become the most destructive force on this planet.
Abad-Santos, A. (2019, May 16). James Charles, Tati Westbrook, and the feud that’s ripping apart YouTube’s beauty community. Retrieved from https://www.vox.com/2019/5/16/18617895/james-charles-tati-westbrook-feud-drama-3-million-subscribers
Barbie. (2016, Mar. 4). Feeling Blue? You’re not alone [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aTmrCqbfjH4
Rekstis, E. (2018, July 16). How Barbie’s Confession Made Her the Latest Viral Advocate for Mental Health. Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/health/mental-health/barbie-viral-tweet#1
TED-Ed. (2012, Nov. 16). How social media can make history – Clay Shirky [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ASZJE15E0SY