APU Business Everyday Scholar

Podcast: How Social Media Sows Discontent and Divisiveness

Podcast with Dr. Bjorn Mercer, Program Director, Communication, Philosophy, Religion, World Languages and the Arts and Dr. Alison F. Slade, Faculty Member, Communication

Social media has become a powerful communication tool that influences how people think about social, political, and cultural issues. In this episode, Dr. Bjorn Mercer talks to AMU communication professor Dr. Allison Slade about the rise of popular social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok, and how people are increasingly relying on these sites for news and information. Learn how social media is contributing to the increasing divisiveness in the U.S. and why it is more important than ever to be a critical media consumer.

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Dr. Bjorn Mercer: My name is Dr. Bjorn Mercer. Today, we are talking to Dr. Allison Slade, Associate Faculty in the School of Arts and Humanities. Today, we’re talking about social media: the good, the bad and the reality. Welcome, Allison.

Dr. Allison Slade: Thank you so much for having me.

Dr. Bjorn Mercer: Excellent. This is a great topic, there’s so much going on. Social media has not dominated, but an integral part of so much of life over the last 10, 15 years. And so, I’ll jump into the first question. Social media has been one of the greatest forces of change in the last generation, what are the positives of social media?

Dr. Allison Slade: I think one of the biggest positives of social media is the fact that you can connect with people near and far instantly, and especially those that you may have lost touch with, those that you don’t get to talk to on a regular basis.

I know that for military families, for example, they’re able to instantly chat and talk with people if they’re stationed somewhere else and they can talk with their families and just stay connected. And so, that’s probably in my mind the biggest positive is rekindling connections and keeping connections with others.

Dr. Bjorn Mercer: I completely agree. I remember when Facebook first appeared, I think there was a rush to connect with all your old friends. And so, that connectivity was really exciting. And then, well, a little later you realized, well, I don’t really talk to these people, and things just went away.

Dr. Allison Slade: Exactly. It’s the same, they’re your friend, but not your friend. It’s more of an acquaintance, a social media acquaintance.

Dr. Bjorn Mercer: Exactly. What are the positives for say companies and governments?

Dr. Allison Slade: Well, definitely for companies, I think the marketing aspect of social media is absolutely fascinating. I mean, we live in a world now where social media influencers is actually a thing, that’s an occupation. People devote their entire career to helping market companies products.

I know that from personal experience, even doing marketing for a small business, it’s very useful to use a variety of social media and it can actually make or break your product just like word of mouth could back in the day. And now people can post comments on your products and share how wonderful it is. And so, you can get a lot of business in that way.

As far as governments, I think that there is an element perhaps even an increase in civic activism. People who perhaps don’t watch the news may rely on their social media for their news. And so, they’re going to be able to see what’s happening. Of course, there are some caveats with that, we’re going to talk about that in a minute.

Governments can definitely put out their positions, put out policies, obviously the effort to get people to vote or register to vote. I know I’m asked every single day, if I’m registered, you would think that since they can follow me in what I purchase, they would know that I’m registered to vote at this point.

Dr. Bjorn Mercer: Well, that’s excellent. And I’m glad you talked about marketing for companies. It is amazing that people can make a living being an influencer on Instagram or even TikTok, and that is a career or YouTube.

And especially with governments, being able for governments to push out information and then for people to consume that and then react in such, I guess you could say quick way and non-centralized way is extremely important. Now, with the positives, there are some negatives and social media has some real issues. What are some negatives associated with social media?

Dr. Allison Slade: I think one of the biggest negatives of social media is the potential for negativity in general. We have cyber bullying having a whole new form, a way of children to connect and bully other children. Even so much that adults will bully other children as in the Megan Meier case where the young girl at 13 committed suicide, because an adult actually made a MySpace page to torture this young girl.

The laws have not caught up with the technology. The person who was arrested in that case actually got off with a slap on the wrist because there was no law against cyber bullying at that time to have any felony charges or responsibility for that level of cyber bullying. And so, cyber bullying is definitely an issue.

The kids, there’s just too much social media pressure on these young children. I know personally my children do not have social media. In fact, my college-aged kid, actually during his first week away at college called and said, “Do you mind if I have an Instagram now?” I’m like, “Well, you don’t live in my house now, so sure. You’re 18, I think you can handle it.” But I thought it was cool that he called to ask me. Just my kids, it’s too much pressure for them.

And when the cyber bullying is online and social media, the schools really have no recourse unless they can see it happening at school. And so the bullying happens at school, it happens out of school, whereas before social media, yeah, they could bother you on the bus and in the hallway, but pretty much after school, unless they’re knocking on your door, the kids are not going to be exposed to that behavior. So that’s definitely the biggest negative for me.

A second negative would be the divisiveness that social media has seemed to cause. And especially right now with everything that’s happening in our country, specifically being an election year and being such a heated election, I think politics is a great example of divisiveness on social media.

And people that you would normally never hear say such negative and hateful things, that’s evident on social media. I mean, I was very taken aback by people wishing other people dead and it’s just like, wow, okay, we’ve reached a line that’s just incredulous to me.

Dr. Bjorn Mercer: Yeah, those are all great observations, and I completely agree. I did a podcast with Dr. Jonathan Surovell last year about the ethics in social media. From his philosophic point of view, he basically said, everybody should delete their social media.

[Podcast: What Is the Path to Leading an Ethical Life?]

Dr. Allison Slade: Absolutely.

Dr. Bjorn Mercer: Because it does not increase net happiness or net joy, which is an interesting conversation to have of course. But social media, again, there are many positives, but on an individual, especially with kids, it can be so dangerous.

And Allison you and I, we both grew up at a time when there was not social media as kids or as teenagers. And it’d be very difficult to grow up now where you’re instantly seeing and potentially comparing yourself to everybody out there. And, it just creates so many unrealistic expectations of how life is.

Dr. Allison Slade: I completely agree. I read an article recently that identified our generation, those born between 1977 and 1983 as Xennials. They fall in the middle there between Generation X and Millennials, and it’s just an interesting little pullout there of that generation.

I bring it up because in the article, one of the best lines which totally rang true for me was that we had an analog childhood and a digital adulthood. That’s absolutely fascinating because we did, right, everything analog. I mean, I remember TVs with rabbit ears and turn dials, and then as we get older, as all this technology is changing. And our children do not know a world without social media and those instant connections.

My kids were really just shocked when I told them that when I started college 25 years ago, we didn’t have computers. I mean, I had a word processor and didn’t have email until my sophomore year of college, because that’s not how we did it. And so they were shocked.

Definitely seeing how the kids reacted to our recent hurricane that affected our area, we went almost five days without power and literally halfway through day one, my kids were—and I’m ashamed to admit it, but without electronics—they just didn’t know what to do. They had to relearn how to entertain themselves. And that was eye opening for me.

And so it relates to social media in that these kids are so immersed in technology, that’s really one of their only outlets. I mean, we used to play outside, I have to get my kids to play outside, so it’s different. So there’s never any escape, the digital world surrounds them completely.

Dr. Bjorn Mercer: No, and I completely agree, and that’s why I think for most parents, social media is a huge concern for them. For me, and it sounds like what you did exactly, social media would be verboten for pretty much ever until they’re out of the house.

I’m glad you also talked about politics. And obviously without getting too much into politics, there was a great Vox video from a few years ago where it called social media dumpster fire. But it said that social media really helps bad behavior on social media.

And in the sense that when you have a very polished, moderate, very well-rounded argument or even perspective, nothing happens, people read it and nod. But then when you were saying salacious things on the very far right, on the very far left, everybody reacts instantly. And then, so the media outlets pick up on these very far or extreme views, and then people start thinking those are actual views that are mainstream when they’re actually not.

Dr. Allison Slade: I completely agree. From a journalism teacher perspective and from background in broadcast journalism and those sorts of studies, people are going to selectively choose the media they interact with the most. So, your political views and your attitudes and behaviors towards politics will actually guide you to which news outlet with which to associate yourself.

So, if you’re far right, you’re going to be looking at Fox News and having those sorts of social media in your newsfeed. Whereas, if you are more liberal and left-leaning, you’re going to have MSNBC and those sorts of news outlets in your newsfeed.

And personally, I really feel like we’ve gone back into the what Frank Luther Mott called the “dark ages of journalism,” which was the partisan press. And I think we’ve reached a point now, and this is personal opinion where partisan press is what we receive on the news cycle daily.

That trickles into social media as well because people are so strongly opinionated right now on social media and especially where politics is concerned. And everyone is braver on a keyboard, because you can be a keyboard warrior and say things that you probably wouldn’t say to someone’s face.

Dr. Bjorn Mercer: I’m glad you said that because the political discourse on the national level, for me, is always extremely disappointing. I’m always very sad to see my peers, say age peers, what they’re talking about my elders and to see how they’re conducting themselves. And this is going to sound dramatic, but it’s nothing that I was taught.

Dr. Allison Slade: I agree.

Dr. Bjorn Mercer: How you talk to each other and how you disagree with each other. And, in the last 10, 15 years, social media has definitely changed how people talk, especially as you said online as with being a keyboard warrior.

But, when I consume my own news, I make sure to try to have a balanced representation of ideas. I remember back when I was reading HuffPost and I liked HuffPost and it is great. And then I’d read articles. And then, probably about six years ago, they started getting just extremely one-sided. And so I stopped reading HuffPost. And so then, I really reach out where every once in a while I’ll read HuffPost, every once in a while I’ll read CNN, I’ll read BBC, I’ll read Reason.com, also The New Republic and The Nation. Because you have to go across those different media outlets. And also Fox because you have to get those different perspectives on what’s going on in the world.

Dr. Allison Slade: I totally agree. I really think that one of my main goals as a communication teacher has always been to make sure that my students can be critical media consumers. And what you said is absolutely correct. You really need to know all positions of a debate or of a topic so that you can sound intelligent and talk about the talking points.

But what happens on social media is that there are no more, “let’s talk about the talking points and all sides of the argument,” there’s an immediate reaction. And then when your opinion doesn’t jibe with what they are saying, there’s an immediate tirade of name calling.

Based on my communication experience as a teacher and a scholar, once you start calling me names, I pretty much won. So people are very quick. I mean, because that’s the only way they think to win is to just insult you, insult your intelligence and just call you names.

And as you said earlier, that’s not how I was taught either. You just do not jump in with not very nice names. Now, you’re calling somebody a brat, I mean, we’ve reached a whole new level of name calling on social media and it’s because people are brave enough to do so.

Dr. Bjorn Mercer: Exactly. And like you’re talking about name calling, or you can even describe cancel culture, and all these things that exist on social media. And every day, you’ll see something about somebody being canceled or every day about a new controversy. And, of course, my question is, are these actually controversies or is it people just emotionally reacting? And then, people communicating very poorly.

Dr. Allison Slade: One of my favorite scholars in communication is a man by the name of Daniel Boorstin. Boorstin talked about what he labeled the “pseudo event,” which is a medium-manipulated event to get people to watch, feel a certain way, but really to get people to watch. I think a great example is the Duck Dynasty interview with GQ, in which it was a publicity stunt. He said some things that were not cool, and then they pulled him off the show, within three weeks later due to the drastic uproar, the Duck Dynasty is back. And so, it’s a publicity stunt.

And I think exactly the same thing happens on social media. The news has always gone in cycles, right? They latch onto one thing and we have this cycle about this one topic, and then the minute something else happens, it’s a new topic. And so, and then what happened to the other stuff, right? It’s still there. Right now we’re in the middle of the pandemic, so a lot of news is focused on coronavirus.

Dr. Bjorn Mercer: No, for sure. And especially with the political discourse, I always think of Godwin’s law, which is how long an online discussion has to go on until somebody accuses the other person of being Hitler.

Dr. Allison Slade: That’s great.

Dr. Bjorn Mercer: Which, you could also just say fascist or whatever.

Dr. Allison Slade: Sure, insert a political label here.

Dr. Bjorn Mercer: Exactly. Extreme political label. And it doesn’t do anybody any good by going to an extreme accusation because then it’s like, is this person actually Hitler? Is this person actually a fascist? Or, currently when everybody’s alt-right or everybody’s an SJW or whatever, it’s like, again, there are people very far right, there are people very far left, but what percentage of those people are actually that far?

And I would say it’s very, very small, and compared to the national discourse about politics versus local, local, at least from my perspective about 99% of my conversations have been great. And I talk politics with people, I talk religion with people, and everybody just wants to do their job. They just want to live. They want to be left alone.

Dr. Allison Slade: I completely agree and it’s interesting. So when things really started getting heated up during the, we were on locked down and then we have the murder of George Floyd, the rise of a social movement, a resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement on social media and in the new cycle. And it’s interesting to me, how based on analytics, people pop up in your newsfeed. And so, I have one friend that pops up in my newsfeed and he posts interesting things, but they’re very liberal. And so, I always have a question.

And so, finally he asked me, he’s like, “Do you do this to other people or just me?” And I was like, “Well, you pop up most frequently. And so, you have these interesting posts and I have these questions.” He thought I was really just attacking him, and I was like, “No, I’m not attacking anything.” We have reached a point where we have really cordial, great conversations to meet in the middle because I find it very interesting his point of view and mine, but at first he was just taken aback because he thought I was attacking. I was like, “No, I’m really not.” And finally, the other day he said, “Well, who are you voting for?” And I jokingly said, “I’m writing myself in,” but, and he laughed it off.

But I think what you were saying, it’s interesting at this local level, and then with friends that you know you can talk to, there’s a whole different feel on social media and in conversation. And then with people who are, let’s say just on some national posts and they’re seeing 5,600 replies and you happen to get right in the middle and you catch a reply. And heaven help you if you make the mistake of replying to someone you don’t know from wherever, because that’s going to open up a whole new line of discussion that some people just can’t handle. And I mean, some people, the rage is evident in their talking, and their writing.

Dr. Bjorn Mercer: No, and I completely agree. And that’s one of the things that I think me, as a person, I don’t quite understand: the anger. Because if you’re one side or the other, the number one thing is that we’re Americans.

We live in a country that, well, since the civil war has been pretty politically stable. Now there have of course problems with civil rights and the status of various peoples within the country, indigenous Black, Hispanic minorities, in which things always have to be worked on. And just like you said, with Black Lives movements, there are some deep seated frustrations and anger that do exist out there.

But like you also said, I’ve talked to people are extremely liberal. I’ve talked to people who are extremely conservative. When you talk to them, you can have great conversations because number one, they just want everything to go well.

And oftentimes, I would say the rhetoric of fear is something that people love to use for their own benefit. And that is one of the great things that social media amplifies more than anything is that rhetoric of fear, “if you don’t do this, this is going to happen.”

Dr. Allison Slade: So, I think you are absolutely correct on the rhetoric of fear. When I teach public speaking and I ask students, what is the motivation for audience members to listen or audience members to participate or for the speaker to motivate audiences, and everyone always says happiness. And I say, no, you’re wrong.

Fear is the greatest motivator. And as unfortunate as that is, that is how it works. And this is going to sound elitist, but the average citizen is not going to be able to process out a lot of that information. And a lot of people don’t fact check, so they take what they read on social media as complete facts, or they take what they hear from politicians as complete fact.

And as we know a quick fact check on the internet for anyone who is a politician, a career politician will show you that all politicians stretch the truth and use different contexts with words to make their point even if it’s little on the fibby side. So people are just, the fear.

Right now, the biggest fear perhaps for folks is, in 28 days, you’ll lose your health care. And I’m sorry, that’s just fear. That’s fear. And those kinds of comments really can stir up the average person. And so, unfortunately, social media is an enabler of that fear. It’s an extension.

Dr. Bjorn Mercer: And that’s great. And a lot of the negatives of social media really, it seems like it can be boiled out of fear like you said. Here in Arizona, there’s the sheriff who says, “I’ll stand up to the mobs” and that’s going directly to fear. And of course, my question is what mobs? There have been protests, and some of those protests have been violent, of course, but then you have to really do a deep dive into what are people protesting? Who is causing the violence and who is this mysterious other that’s going to come and get you?

Dr. Allison Slade: Yeah. So you’re afraid of the monster under your bed. And at this point it’s the monster living in your computer and your social media. What am I going to wake up to see today? I mean, the numbers are astounding.

Pew Research Center is one of the greatest research sites for journalism and social media and all those topics that are related to what we’re talking to you.

But, so many percentage of folks, first thing they do when they wake up in the morning is, after they turn off the alarm is open Facebook. They open Instagram. This is how they start their day. So, are you going to start your day with terrible news or fear, politics and divisiveness? That’s how you start your day? Really? How about some eggs and bacon. Happiness.

Dr. Bjorn Mercer: I completely agree. And one of the negatives, one of the huge negative social media is the algorithms. They want to cater to you, they want to give you more information that you like, but of course that completely biases your newsfeed.

One of the negatives of news is that we see all of the horrible things that happen all around the country and all around the world. So often people are like, oh, things are getting so much worse, even though statistically people are healthier, people are safer than ever before.

Even during COVID, which of course has been extremely difficult time for so many people. So many millions of people have lost their job. And it’s been quite a perilous experience that, of course, for some people who have lost their lives because of actual COVID.

Things are not so bad that we can compare them to previous pandemics or even like, example like the Black Death. Not everybody in the world is dying, yet there’s still so much divisiveness because politicians, I’ll say, aren’t doing their job first of all, and information is handpicked for us, which really scares us.

Dr. Allison Slade: I agree. I think one of the things about research and about numbers is that everybody says, oh, numbers don’t lie, numbers are facts. But, I disagree because I think numbers can be manipulated however you want them to reflect the point that you’re trying to get across. And so, people always quote a lot of stats and a lot of studies and numbers, and that’s how they seek to “prove” their point on social media.

But I agree with you, as you say, that coronavirus is novel, it’s unprecedented, you can’t really compare it with other pandemics, but I mean, if we were going to, I mean, smallpox wiped out millions of people. Smallpox, that was just crazy.

And I can throw out a number from a great book called “American Holocaust” about Columbus. After Columbus landed in the Americas, within eight years he had killed 21 million indigenous peoples. And that was from disease and pillage and other things. So, I mean, I’m not discounting coronavirus, I’m discounting the fact that people use numbers to manipulate their story and their narrative.

Dr. Bjorn Mercer: Exactly. And I completely agree. And just like you said, definitely not discounting coronavirus. It’s been an interesting experience for everyone. Ideally, we should all be closer to our families, focus on the things that matter, which is family, creativity, reading, things that help us personally grow.

But, I think one of the things that coronavirus did is it really reminded us contemporary humans of our mortality. Humans of so many previous generations had to always worry about dying in natural, not natural causes in natural disasters or from disease.

And for the most part, contemporary humans, we, “beat” diseases, pandemics or pestilence or plague, or like you said, smallpox. Smallpox was a huge killer for every generation of humans until really within the last 100 years.

Dr. Allison Slade: Absolutely. And we’re talking about wiping out entire indigenous peoples, I mean, smallpox spread like wildfire. Even George Washington recovered from smallpox, so did John Adams. And back in those times, they actually had ways to use IVs and try and stop you from getting smallpox. It sounded very scary and precarious at that time to think about the 1700s. The technology we have now, it’s hard for us to think about how it developed, and it’s so long ago, but they were doing what they could to eradicate.

And I feel like we have to have some level of trust that people are doing what they can to help to eradicate something so novel and unprecedented in our country. And again, social media feeds that fire. It feeds that fear.

On the other side, you say people get close to their families and be more creative in their endeavors, but, I feel like during coronavirus—I have not seen any research studies on this yet, and I’d be interested—I’m pretty sure there will be of how many people turned to social media more during this time for their information or for their connections instead of focusing on what was in their own home. Because some people live alone and that may be the only connection they have. And is that a good connection at that point, if that’s your only connection to “real” world and real life is social media, that’s scary also, to me.

Dr. Bjorn Mercer: It is, it is, and everybody’s at different stages in their lives and different ages and like anything, it should be a balance. I, of course always advocate for arts training, hobbies and things like that because it allows you to do stuff that is intensely personal and it takes time.

If you’re going to learn an instrument, it literally takes time. It takes days and weeks and years sometimes, but it’s also something that allows you to work on your mind. So do you want to talk about our social media platforms associated with different age groups or? We talked about Twitter.

Dr. Allison Slade: Twitter is my least favorite social media. I personally have never been able to get into Twitter. Although, as we know, many politicians are a fan of Twitter and that is something to point out too. I think people don’t realize, everyone’s always saying, oh, look what insert politician’s name has tweeted today and it’s crazy.

And I really, I think it’s sad that people think that all of these politicians write all of their own tweets because that’s not what’s happening. They may approve it. They may have some that they do, but not all of them.

Dr. Bjorn Mercer: Let’s talk about that. Twitter has exploded as social media for the choice of politicians, activists, and the need to get instant reactions. Why is Twitter both amazing and terrible?

Dr. Allison Slade: I think Twitter has some good features. I think Twitter is very instant, much like the other social media and a lot of people are on Twitter and you can build your followers quickly, such as Instagram.

I think it’s harder sometimes to reach certain demographics on Facebook. My kids and some students are always saying, “Oh, Facebook’s for old people.” And actually a lot of people are still on Facebook, but it is a trend for younger demographics to be on Twitter or Instagram or both. And so, Twitter is very appealing.

Twitter is also very discouraging because when you have politicians and that’s on both sides of the aisle who are using Twitter as one of their main platforms for communicating, I really find it interesting that so many people feel that these politicians—insert name here, could be any one of them—are writing all of their own tweets.

There’s no way that people with all of that schedule and sitting in sessions or doing what politicians do, they’re not sitting on their phone writing tweets every 10 minutes, someone is creating that for them. And so people get really upset.

You see posts on Facebook or Twitter, look what everybody’s saying today. And I’m thinking, yeah, look what the aide wrote today. So, I think people forget.

We live in such a digital world, I mean, when you think about it, television is not very old either. Kennedy and Nixon in the ’60s, that was the first televised debate.

Dr. Bjorn Mercer: Yeah. And the Kennedy and Nixon debate where people who watched it, Kennedy won, people who listened to it, Nixon won.

Dr. Allison Slade: Exactly. It brought a whole new level of visual into listening and communication, and it’s fascinating.

Dr. Bjorn Mercer: Exactly. From a 2019 Pew Research article about Twitter users, 80% of the tweets are created by the top 10% tweeters. So there are super users in Twitter that create the vast majority of tweets out there versus 90% of the people on Twitter only create about 20%.

So, just that right there, does Twitter represent a balance of its users? Not at all. And then from that Pew Research article about Twitter, Twitter users are younger, more highly educated and wealthier than the general public. So, how does that skew the message that people are receiving from Twitter?

Dr. Allison Slade: I think that Twitter on a global scale, for example, another number from 2019 for Twitter is that that social network in particular reaches 275 million people monthly, 275 million monthly users worldwide. So, Twitter is very far reaching and I think young people are going to latch onto that.

I don’t like Twitter because you have limited characters. So if I want to tell you a big, long thing, a very long narrative, I’m not going to use Twitter, I’m going to use something else. But I do think it skews to the younger demographic.

And think about it this way: If Twitter is the only social media that you were using and you’re in that demographic between 18 and 25, if that’s the only one you’re using, then that’s the only information you’re receiving.

That means you are just completely not getting any information from any other demographic and potentially, based on who you follow, not getting any other information from people who might have a different opinion or worldview than you. And so, you are staying inside your little box here, and I think that’s scary.

Dr. Bjorn Mercer: I completely agree. And especially with how the social media algorithms work again, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook will give you more information that you like. So, if you have a certain cause, you’ll read a bunch of articles about that cause. If you clicked one article accidentally, then you get a bunch of subsequent articles about actually something you don’t care about.

Dr. Allison Slade: And also, what about when you’re riding in your car and you talk about, “Hey, I think we need to buy a new bookshelf from IKEA” and you’ve never had an IKEA ad on your Facebook ever. You did not have your phone on Facebook when you said that in your car. And then all of a sudden you’re getting IKEA ads or bookcase ads the next time you log on. And so, it’s listening, big brother’s watching, social media.

Dr. Bjorn Mercer: It is, it is. And that’s a great conversation that I had with Dr. Ahmed Naumaan, the STEM Dean about privacy rights and we talked about Edward Snowden in a podcast where you can go on forever about what are the issues and how can we help protect privacy issues, which typically is a very important issue for politicians. Yet, when the government is, I’m using really big quotation marks in the air, “protecting us” privacy issues go out the door, right? And so much of this is from social media data mining.

Dr. Allison Slade: I also think that you’ve touched upon another interesting point here about social media in that people assume that because they are using a social media platform, that they are completely covered by the First Amendment and that everything they do say is completely protected and everything’s fine. And they get upset when they’re censored by the Facebook police as everyone jokes about taking down a post or removing it because it’s not factual and people get up in arms over it.

But what people fail to realize is that Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, any of those social platforms are privately owned companies, and therefore you are borrowing their platform. They allow you to have an account that is free. They allow you to post on your account, but if you don’t meet the standards that they have set for them as a private company, they are absolutely within their right to take down your post.

And just because you say something, people try to hide behind the First Amendment. You have to realize that not everything is protected and there’s going to be a consequence to your actions.

And so, we talk about in our classes, social media class, specifically, we cover this topic about people who have been fired for saying things that are inappropriate on social media. So, you have to be careful, it’s not just a blanket coverage.

Dr. Bjorn Mercer: Exactly. And I’m glad you brought that up with First Amendment. We have First Amendment rights, of course, which is great. And we have the right to disagree, which of course is great. But, my own personal recommendation for people is don’t have extreme views and don’t put them out there on social media.

Dr. Allison Slade: Exactly.

Dr. Bjorn Mercer: Because number one, you need to talk to people and find a common ground. And then if you do put out those extreme views, you’re going to get extreme views back at you. And do you personally want to live in your own personal world and environment where you’re having arguments with somebody in some other state who doesn’t care about you?

Dr. Allison Slade: Exactly. And that’s what I was saying earlier. You have this distance, some random person that you engage with and you’ve gotten your blood pressure up over something that you can’t even get somebody to see your point of view. You’re not going to change anybody’s mind.

I’ll give you another example too. People don’t realize, I’m just going to let everybody out there know, hate speech is protected by the First Amendment. We have Snyder v. Phelps, the case Snyder v. Phelps to thank for that.

And so people are really quick to be like, that’s hate speech. Well, sadly, hate speech is protected. And even though it’s not appropriate, you are free under the First Amendment to say those things, not on a platform that is privately owned.

That’s where the gray area starts coming in for folks. Hate speech is hateful, yes it is, but it’s protected by the First Amendment and Snyder v. Phelps, and hat’s a great case for anyone who wants to look it up too, it involves the Westboro Baptist Church. So, Snyder v. Phelps.

Dr. Bjorn Mercer: Exactly. And the Westboro Baptist Church. I’m not going to say it’s almost universally agreed upon that the Westboro Baptist Church is pretty disgusting, but it’s not, because there are some people that will agree with certain aspects of the Westboro Baptist Church. And, do I personally agree with them? No!

But, to have a democracy that in which ideas can go back and forth, you do need to have that freedom of speech because to have that freedom to actually talk about issues, you do need to have far reaching freedoms. And you’ll see other countries where hate speech is outlawed in which then it’s politically used to silence opposition.

Dr. Allison Slade: I agree and it’s sad. I used to host a political radio show many years ago, and, fun fact, the KKK actually has a disclaimer on its own website disavowing any connection with the Westboro Baptist Church, fun fact.

Dr. Bjorn Mercer: So the KKK doesn’t even want to be associated with the Westboro Baptist Church. And there’s been some people who have left the Westboro Baptist Church, and there’s a girl who had an interview with Joe Rogan, very interesting.

That is an interesting subject to also investigate because then even though you might be getting into a “fight” with somebody online, if you were raised in the Westboro Baptist Church, your worldview is only that. So in a sense, what’s the number one thing we have to have? Compassion and understanding about people.

And so, if you’re having this fight with somebody who lived and was raised in an environment that essentially espouses hate, it’s our job, it’s your job to try to not understand or agree with them, but to show them compassion, to then, say softly, persuade them.

Can you persuade somebody via yelling or name calling or through understanding and some compassion? Obviously compassion will always work out individually, but on social media, of course, the name calling is, it does better with the analytics.

Dr. Allison Slade: I also think some people are just incapable of sympathy or empathy for other people. And because Facebook is so, I don’t want to say anonymous, but to a degree, it isolates you and you have people feel more freedom because of that isolation to say a variety of different things.

So you can see where there’s a lack, a complete lack of compassion and empathy and sympathy and all those other emotions. Kindness has never hurt anyone. And so, if you don’t have anything kind to say, just don’t say it.

And this is exactly why I do not personally post about politics. Although, I did post the other day that I was ready for the election to be over so that I could go back to seeing pictures of food.

Dr. Bjorn Mercer: Exactly. And so, we’re at the end now, Allison, any final words about social media?

Dr. Allison Slade: I just would like to say people should use caution and take everything you read with a grain of salt, be a critical media consumer. There are positives, you can connect with your family, with your friends and stay connected to news if that’s where you get your news, that’s great.

But just remember, that the negative sides of social media really should be taken into consideration and to be that critical media consumer. Fact check those articles. Just because they’re your friend doesn’t mean they read the article before they posted. a

Do that yourself, don’t rely on others to influence your opinion. You influence your opinion, you influence your thoughts. You be the one in control of that information.

Dr. Bjorn Mercer: I completely agree. Today, we were talking to Dr. Allison Slade about social media, the good, the bad and the reality.

About the Speakers

Dr. Bjorn Mercer is a Program Director at American Public University. He holds a bachelor’s degree in music from Missouri State University, a master’s and doctorate in music from the University of Arizona, and an M.B.A. from the University of Phoenix. He writes about leadership, management and why the humanities and liberal arts are critical to career success. Dr. Mercer also writes children’s music.

Dr. Alison F. Slade is an associate professor of communication in the School of Arts and Humanities at American Public University. Her research interests include mass media history, social media, reality television, and popular culture. Her most current project is researching her alma mater Auburn University’s collegiate newspaper during the Civil Rights movement. Dr. Slade resides in South Alabama near the beautiful Gulf Coast.  

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