The New York Times reported in a poll that almost 70% of the American public perceive race relations in America to be poor, even bad. How do you perceive racial tensions, and how do you believe social media, and the established media’s ability to disseminate information rapidly, affect both American’s perceptions of racial tension and actual racial tension in the United States in light of Islamophobia, especially since the Orlando night club attack, BLM protests and the high profile killing of black men, the mass killing of police officers in Dallas, TX, #AllLivesMatter, and President Obama’s remark that “we are not as divided as we seem.”
We are not as divided as we may seem, but we have never been truly unified. Yes, there is racial tension in the U.S., and the media has played a significant role in contributing to racial tensions. Social media has been also both a blessing and a curse when it comes to spreading information to the public.
I do not believe racial tension has gotten worse in this country, but rather that social media has helped destroy the blissfully ignorant world many Americans were living in. I believe this is more a battle between ignorant and educated people, and social media has been influencing both sides positively and negatively.
One of the biggest problems I see is that people are way too content receiving obviously biased information. On social media platforms like Facebook or Instagram, people are more likely to be shown articles and blogs related to pages they’ve already liked. If they’re mostly friends with people that have the same views as them, they will see all the articles their friends have liked. This limits the amount of information and the number of perspectives someone browsing online will see. This is especially bad when people get their information primarily or even exclusively from articles with clickbait titles, which may contain very inaccurate information. I know can be hard to find unbiased information, but an informed reader should be able to recognize when they are reading a poorly written, biased article, or listening to or reading work by a poorly informed commentator or blogger.
Another reason social media has exacerbated American race relations is that the mass media in general tends to oversimplify portrayals of marginalized groups. Such images, which tend to clump people together, are harmful, and feed into false stereotypes. Social media has given us access to such information, and is a platform for many movements and bloggers; this is a good and a bad thing. People can use social media to spread hateful and ignorant ideas. On the flip side, media social has also helped many progressive movements, like #blacklivesmatter, which seeks to end systematic and intentional, negative targetting of black Americans, or slutWalk, which calls for an end to rape culture, grow and reach anyone with internet access.
A major problem I see in the mainstream media today is that news outlets tend to lead people to believe that hate is new in the U.S. Many people thought that racial hatred in America ended after the 1960’s, and that it is no longer a problem. Although social media has amplified and given greater credence to false realities, it’s also helped propagate painful truths about the current state of America. We are not nearly as divided as we may seem, but both social media and major media outlets perpetuate an image of division in our country.
(Copyright 2016 Sade Johnson)