Have social media failed us? | Christiana Varda | TEDxLarnaca

if there's one thing I love it's community but I didn't always know that I felt it first when I arrived at a university campus of 40,000 students I felt like a mere decimal point a statistic I felt like such a small part of a whole and I wondered will I ever feel like I belong here that was the first time I realized that being a part of something that was bigger than myself was important to me and then 2004 came and with it came Facebook an online platform that began rolling out to US universities gradually but to sign up you had to use your university email to verify your identity and up until that point I had only ever used nicknames online so being online as the real me felt strange at first but I quickly forgot about it as I became friends with people from classes people I worked with and eventually my friends around the world as Facebook became available to the public it swallowed that vastness of the campus that enormity of the world and it made it so small thinking about it now I realized that there's a version of the last 15 years of my life online a virtual life that at first seemed to run in parallel with my real life but as I find myself remembering specific moments as I experience them through technology conversations and common threads I had with people online like clear memories I'm not so sure for instance I remember in 2009 I was sitting on my couch with my laptop at Twitter open and suddenly I noticed that out of the blue Patrick Swayze was trending and people were reporting or tweeting about his death based on unnamed sources in room falsely and I remember that moment very very clearly because I remember feeling so skeptical it was the first time that some kind of some piece of news was trending it now I just couldn't verify it on any of the traditional news media outlets it feels like yesterday when I felt the strong grip of community in cypresses recent darkest moments during the 2013 economic crisis when I realize just how many people were sharing their stories online we're sharing news stories from journalists in Brussels they were posting updates and photos from ATM cues around the island there used to be a clear distinction between us and the media but today we are the media tool we also have a loudspeaker and what we choose to share and how we use that space it really matters it mattered for the middle eastern citizens that used it to protest against oppressive regimes it mattered for the waves of women that use the hashtag me too and made their voices heard it mattered in the US election when people shared falsified stories about candidates it mattered in the UK referendum when people share sensationalized stories that contributed to a majority leave vote but all communities have their inherent biases my community thinks like me I expect that it will react like me it will approve what I say and you know actually like Hannah makes me feel good it makes me feel like I belong there and social media platforms know this and they respond to this by providing us with content that is catered to us the content we see is the one that's most meaningful to us and this is true on social media platforms as well as search engines but who decides what's meaningful every like share comment we make matters it determines what we most engage with what is most important to us what we respond to online we inhabit rooms full of people telling the kinds of stories we like to hear the kinds of stories that we are likely to repeat applaud and celebrate our news feeds become small rooms very much like this one full of people eager to echo exactly what it is we're saying social media gives us a very different version of reality it gives us the version of reality that we most prefer it makes us blind to our own biases I used to work as a secondary school teacher and I introduced the Media Studies course in the curriculum for upper high school students and I remember going into that first Media Studies class I knew that this course was oversubscribed for a reason everyone thought that we would be watching YouTube videos all day and actually they were partly right I made sure that together we consumed as much diverse media as possible and in order to do that I created a closed Facebook group where we could share what appeared in our news feeds what was trending or what we weren't sure about that became the space where students both current and former got together to discuss dissect critique or even mock the media it became one of the most important and valued communities that I am a part of of course on that first day of class I didn't know that nor did I know that I would end up talking about my students reaction to the term media see for years to come I remember when I said the words media literacy my students looked at me with eyes that seemed to say media what but that what matters the most we read media we imitate media but do we speak media in a world made up of binary oppositions that seems to me to be the most critical thing we have control of our privacy settings but we have no privacy we navigate a world made up of true versus fake news stories we have a voice but algorithms that determine the content we see renderers voiceless so have social media failed us or are we failing on social media is C is the answer to quit social media altogether well that's one option but it doesn't necessarily solve the problem in fact there isn't one single action that solves this problem but there is one thing that we can all do but it's small it's not enough but it's a start if we choose to stay on social media we need to be more critical as we're scrolling through our news feeds we need to ask the wat more often we need to question what we see and why we see it next time you see sponsored content ask yourself what next time you read a headline that angers shocks or enthralls you ask yourself what next time a video starts playing ask yourself what next time you see a photo or a meme that's getting a lot of shares ask yourself what as you're scrolling through what your friends are shirring ask yourself is it opinion news is it based on fact speculation what next time you hear that haunting ping of your notifications and pick up your phone and mindlessly make your way down whatever social media rabbit hole be alert be conscious ask the simple question first what is it the what isn't gonna get you very far but it's gonna lead to the harder questions like who is behind this post how is it constructed to appeal to me and why am I seeing this asking the want seems small it's not enough but it's a start as a media educator my students often tell me that I've ruined their media lives and you know I take that as a compliment because I know that they can never passively consume another media product without thinking about it critically I joined social media platforms looking for community and I found it but in many ways I'm nothing more than a statistic a fraction of a number that's so small it's enough to make me feel quite seriously meaningless I am NOT meaningless you are not meaningless together we can all be very meaningful our actions online impact our daily lives what we share can create ripples and those ripples can bring change that change can be good or bad but it's only when we start thinking about what we consume that we get to make choice thank you [Applause]


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