Whilst I think consideration of the potential drawbacks of social media is important and worthy of discussion, frankly I'm quite sick of it. People like to wax lyrical on the news about the evils of smartphones in cultivating self-esteem issues, or how Instagram is causing kids to fail school. But all too often, they only superficially acknowledge the numerous benefits and advancements that have been made available to us by these platforms. I want to say thank you for another aspect of social media that I think is often forgotten about: the role it can play in educating and informing, and in facilitating political participation.
In Australia’s most recent federal election, record 88.8% of people under the age of 25 enrolled to vote. I can testify to the power of social media activism in making this happen. In the weeks leading up to the election, the timelines and feeds of my peers changed to include reminders to enrol, information about our voting system, and discussions and critiques of important issues. Those who think we only use social media as a platform to perform and pose are sadly mistaken.
This under-acknowledged role of social media is especially important considering how our access to information has changed in the past few decades. Australia has developed to have one of the highest rates of media ownership concentration (in traditional mediums such as print/newspaper and television) in the developed world, dominated by NewsCorp and Fairfax. From my experience, the Australian public generally thinks of their country as extremely democratic, and wouldn’t really consider free media to be an issue. But the reality of the matter is that the level of ownership concentration has reduced diversity in important ways, and Australians that stick to traditional sources of information are often left in the dark about key issues.
Social media can play an important role in allowing access to variety of perspectives, as well as opening doors to information that traditional media may not make available. Through connecting with fellow activists and alternative news sources using social media platforms, I’ve been able to access clear information and gain a greater understanding of the processes and systems which drive our country. I’ve also been able to discuss and debate with my peers, driving me to reach new standards of accountability with my sources, and compassion for the viewpoints of others.
I think people often see political debate over social media as negative, because it can often devolve into ranting and refusal to acknowledge the other perspective. It’s true that the internet exacerbates this tendency because no matter how niche a viewpoint one holds, they can always find some dark corner of the web that validates it. But although I, and many others, have had some negative experiences with political discussion over social media, I have found that the vast majority of what I have experienced has been extremely positive. Particularly amongst my age group, people approach true political discourse with humility and a willingness to accept their possible ignorance. Although our opinions and proposed methods may be different, we usually have similar goals in living happy lives and bettering society.
Speaking from experience, it may take a while to learn the skills to be able to have a rational and constructive political discussion with somebody over the internet. When I was younger, my extremely stubborn sense of justice frequently left me screaming at a wall and frustrated with a lack of headway. I didn’t understand how to properly acknowledge somebody else’s opinion, and frequently focussed on emotive and abstract concepts rather than communicating my ideas rationally and backing them up with evidence. Whilst it was a painful process for me to learn how to tame my inner lion, I actually think it was one of the best forms of personal growth I’ve been able to experience in my short life so far. I’ve learned not only how to express myself and communicate in effective ways, but more importantly I’ve learned how to listen and truly take into account many different perspectives and interests.
This has allowed me to consider and modify my world view, much more than I thought I would back when I was thirteen and convinced I had it all figured out. I can’t explain how much joy it has brought me to discover truths and formulate principles that I feel confident in living by. I’ve been able to cultivate a perspective of the world that is disciplined, compassionate, accepting, ambitious and holistic. And I think the role of social media in helping to facilitate this process of growth is vastly underestimated by many. My parents themselves comment that my generation is far more tolerant and better equipped to listen to the perspectives of others than they were at the same age. Globalisation and cultural diversity, combined with the interconnection that social media has brought us, are responsible for this change. I believe this is indicative of compassionate, measured and powerful leadership into future. I am confident in my generation and the skills we have built, and I can’t wait to see the worldwe will build with them.