As the social media climate becomes more politicized, recent studies show that people are treating social media platforms less like networking opportunities and more as a means for political engagement.
According to Statista, 71 percent of internet users were active on social media in 2017, and these numbers are only growing higher. However, social media users are sharing less about family vacations and more about political and social justice opinions.
Freshman psychology major Sarah Chacko explained that people are taking social media more seriously now than previously.
“Social media was just about sharing happiness, relationships, but now it has adapted to the political aspects, and more real-life aspects are pulled into it,” Chacko said.
Issues like sexual harassment and racism led to the Twitter-driven movements #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter.
According to a Pew Research Center study, the Black Lives Matter hashtag averaged about 17,000 times per day on Twitter from July 2013 to May 2018, making this a leading example of a long-term modern protest.
But social media has also allowed for the spread of other movements on and off the screen.
Last year's teacher’s strike in West Virginia pushed for reforms in education legislation, and the movement quickly escalated to other states as the news spread digitally.
According to USA Today, Jay O'Neal, a West Virginia middle school teacher, formed a Facebook group to join the state’s two teachers unions. The engagement within the group prompted demands of a strike among the teachers, which sparked the nationwide movement.
The Pew Research article explains that the rise of these kinds of movements has begun to change the landscape of social media.
The study found 67 percent of Americans think social media sites are important for addressing social movements, and 65 percent believe they give a platform for underrepresented people.
Junior psychology and nursing major Chloe Peyton said social media allows difficult but important conversations, such as those pertaining to the #MeToo movement, to take off and make an impact.
“We might not be having these tough conversations had somebody not started with such platforms,” Peyton said.
She added that social media largely showcases emotions, and it is easy for someone to get emotionally invested with a social media movement or trend, which allows popular posts and ideas to dominate the platform.
However, the study also shows that 77 percent of Americans think social media is actually a distraction from important issues, and 71 percent say these platforms delude people into falsely believing they are making a difference.
According to Chacko, false or irrelevant information can often crowd out the truth on these sites. She said social media can quickly spread information around, but the validity is often questionable.
“I don’t go to social media for news because I want to be sure the information is right, so I check with valid sources only,” Chacko said. “There is a lot of false advertising on such platforms.”
Regardless of whether or not social media is a trusted resource, Pew Research shows that it has undoubtedly made an impact on and off the web through protest and social justice movements. However, the study says the future of these platforms is unclear due to the split in audience reception.
The article states: “[The] public as a whole expresses mixed views about the potential broader impact these sites might be having on political discourse and the nature of political activism.”