Social media is a curious thing. On the one hand, it offers an endless parade of ephemera from the daily lives of friends, family and strangers — discussions of a fondness for yogurt, a picture of a barista’s decoration in latté foam, descriptions of excellent meals, pictures of pets and small children or maybe an abandoned easy chair on a crowded street corner. There’s all manner of self-promotion and relentless affirmation. There are knee-jerk, ill-informed reactions to, well, everything. The abundance of triviality is as hypnotic as it is repulsive.
But there are times when social media is anything but trivial. During Hurricane Sandy, social media allowed public officials along the Eastern corridor to disseminate information about available resources, evacuation routes, and provide updates on the storm. Social media allowed community members to offer information and assistance and human connection through small, grass-roots networks. Certainly, there were flies in the ointment as people of questionable moral stability spread rumors and began, with astonishing speed, to develop fraudulent schemes, but for the most part, social media was used to accomplish some good.
I cannot think of a significant event from the past three years I did not first learn about via Twitter: the midnight shootings in Aurora, Colo., the massacre at Sandy Hook elementary, the uprisings across the Middle East during Arab Spring, the activities of the Occupy movement, the 2012 presidential election, the shooting of Trayvon Martin and ensuing debacle, the fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas, the bombings at the Boston Marathon, and on and on the news goes.
When these major news stories are breaking, there’s always a significant difference between what’s being shared via social media and what major news outlets are covering. That difference becomes more pronounced and more pathetic with each passing day.
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