Is Social Media Doing More Harm Than Good in the Boston Bombing Case?

After the Boston Marathon bombing, the subsequent coverage of the manhunt and the fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas, we were coercively reminded of the real life effects when false information goes viral. The shadowy corners of the internet most of us try to avoid for our own sanity have been lit by the 24-hour news cycle chomping at the bit for breaking news. Despite our awareness, we never learn. Instead we share and retweet anything and everything that sounds remotely reliable. Authorities are reporting it, so it must be ok to retweet racism, right? It’s fine cause we can just apologize afterwards. The beauty of the information age.

During the Venezuelan elections on Sunday, I was praising social media for keeping me informed on what was happening on the ground. During a controversial election in a country where the (both the American and Venezuelan) mainstream media are not very reliable, social media giants like Twitter and Facebook are absolutely crucial for compiling a more accurate picture. On the day of elections, the oppositional presidential candidate, Henrique Capriles Radonski, told his supporters they were all reporters that day. He urged everyone to tweet, post, and document everything they saw happening at the polls. Losing the election by less than 2%, Capriles and his supporters were able to successfully launch a social media campaign demanding a recount. Thanks to the major outcry, the Venezuelan government has agreed to audit the remaining votes.

Moments like these make me happy about the information age and the ability for any person who has access to a phone or computer help change the course of a country. But then, there are times like this week after the Boston bombing, where you can’t escape the awful racism perpetuated against anyone with brown skin. I want to love the internet for the plethora of information and knowledge it provides me. I want to praise its countless possibilities in social and political affairs. I want to celebrate its path to democratizing media. But I can’t right now. Not when I log onto Facebook and see post after post reminding me of the horrific state of affairs in the world. That’s what mainstream media is for, telling us how awful we are, and why I ignore it as much as I can. Social media is supposed to be media by the people for the people, yet when I see the same patterns of racism, sexism, classism, and all the other -isms emerge, I just want to step away and take a break. Are we doing more harm than good? For better or for worse, it’s become our generation’s main source of information and regardless of the answer, there is no turning back now