As technology advances, adapts, and becomes more available, consuming information has never been easier. Television, social media, and electronic newspapers such as the Mycenaean itself are both a cause and an effect of the globalization and availability of “news.” Millennials and today’s teenagers have been increasingly apt to consuming the information directly available to them, as Twitter and social media users attempt to establish themselves as “woke.”
However, while teens are quick to jump on and contribute to a trending hashtag or hot topic, the quest for global and social awareness has become more of a stylish personality trait than a true fear of ignorance.
Social media can be an incredibly powerful weapon if utilized carefully — a skill that today’s young people are far from mastering. In the midst of content related to the Kardashians, overpriced trendy cafes, and fashionable clothes, teens take it upon themselves to “advocate” for issues such as rumors surrounding politicians and wars in foreign countries through impressive gestures like changing their social media profile picture to a politically charged color or retweeting (maybe) facts on the subject. Once the online wave on the issue has passed over, the profile pictures change back, and the teen has secured the title of “politically aware” until the next issue arises.
However, the validity of information tweeted out by a random person online in 280 characters is not exactly first-rate and rarely is it objective. The intolerance of differing perspectives on social media has greatly decreased the quality of the information teens consume, as well as their ability and willingness to develop their own views. Today’s young people are leaning increasingly left in their political viewpoints, which is affecting their social media timelines — or is it vice versa? The one-sided, specific, unreliable information on social media is allowing little room for teenagers to analyze the facts of a situation and form their own opinion.
Monzer Arabien, a junior at Triangle Math and Science Academy, was among the many social media users who changed their Instagram profile pictures to a solid shade of blue in support of Sudanese protesters during the Sudan crisis earlier this year. He primarily learned about the crisis on Instagram and Twitter, and eventually watched a CNN Student News video about it in class.
Arabien admits that despite having observed and contributed to the social media whirlwind, he has little knowledge on the subject. “Honestly I still don’t know how [the crisis] all started,” said Arabien. “I didn’t understand why these things were happening. I just knew people were getting killed, and wanted to spread the cause to my followers and let them know what is going on….. I wanted to continue the movement.”
But if the people spreading the information don’t understand it themselves, they can’t possibly extract truth from myth — and neither can a majority of their followers. The cycle of biased and abbreviated information grows viciously like a game of telephone. “I would have to say the news is more reliable,” said Arabien. “Not everything over social media is true… it’s being spread a lot and the whole story might get changed. You could be getting bad information and fighting for a different, wrong cause.”
If teenagers are aware that social media platforms are unreliable sources of information, why do they continue to consume information from them? Arabien believes the answer to that question lies in the true priorities of the social media users. “Most teens don’t watch the news because they don’t even really care. They get [information] from social media because they have easy, everyday access to it,” said Arabien. He admits that while teenagers often portray themselves as passionate about global and local issues, they tend to only pay attention when it’s convenient to them, such as on their social media timelines.
Advocacy is invaluable, and some of today’s young people take it upon themselves to become informed and knowledgeable. However, the vast majority of teenagers are more or less clueless about the events taking place today, both globally and locally. Information is so easily accessible, but teens are choosing not to pursue it. Unwilling to leave their niche of social media platforms, they fall victim to the mob mentality created by half-truths and trending hashtags- a dangerous fact that, if continued, could have disastrous effects in the near future.