Sunday, October 29, 2017

Is Social Media Really an Expression of Diversity?

I start my day by checking Facebook and Twitter accounts just after rubbing my eyes. I click on the rainbow-colored button which Facebook has recently introduced to celebrate Pride month and to represent the LGBTQ community. I see some of my friends showing a profile with the French flag to mourn for the victims of the Paris terrorism in 2015. An American acquaintance posts pictures of the march in Washington D.C. protesting the current presidency, proudly showing her "love trumps hate" T-shirt and pink, cat-ear-shaped hat. Those are all fine. I have already been loaded with information and have lost my appetite before breakfast.

At the same time, I am a little frightened of being so accustomed to the cultural norms on Social Media. All major Social Media platforms—including Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and LinkedIn—promote the importance of diversity and express the support for minorities. But what is diversity? It does not mean appreciating immigrants and deprecating others. It does not mean superficial messages for a particular group of people. It does not mean a disdain for the President. (I see the diversity of the definitions of "diversity.") Then I came to realize that Social Media, in fact, can narrow one’s perspectives in some ways: Social Media population does not accurately reflect the real world’s demographics, peer pressure prevents Social Media users from expressing ideas contradictory from their norms, and free speech is being killed by activists in the name of political correctness.

First and foremost, although the Internet and smartphones have become commodities, one should not assume that the Social Media population is exactly reflecting our real world. Take Facebook, the world’s largest Social Media platform. Demographic studies show that the core users of Facebook are young adults, under 30. In the US, 87% of under-30 Internet users have Facebook accounts, whereas only 63% of Internet users aged from 50 to 64 have theirs (Vermeren, 2016). Thus, most of prevailing opinions on Facebook are voiced by the younger generation, who are anxious about their futures and tend to be rebellious against the establishment. There is also a trend in ethnicity. Facebook researchers report that the bulk of the users are whites, yet Hispanic users have been rapidly increasing since 2008. (Chang, 2010) The discrepancy between the ethnicity on Social Media and that in the real world can lead someone to misunderstand the whole world is dominated by whites and Hispanics. Furthermore, Facebook is more popular among college graduates than those who lack a bachelor’s degree (Vermeren, 2016). Interestingly, statistics also conveys that Democratic Party supporters and Social Media users are somewhat overlapped (Vermeren, 2016). The tangible world in which Social Media users reside might be a customized universe not of their own making.

Aside from Social Media demographic, peer pressure may implicitly narrow one's perspectives. Social Media is literally the place where people are supposed to be social. Opinions and ideas are formed as a group standard, and the closer one interacts with a group, the harder it becomes to challenge.

Consider a Harvard student who roots for Donald Trump. Historically, being a conservative is hard at Harvard, a place “surrounded by sea of blue.” Since conservatives are a minority, they would have a hard time finding their supporters, and some may remain quiet not to be offended by others. On the other hand, the majority, liberals, might believe that they are absolutely right and might marginalize others. Harvard Crimson writer Luca Schroeder reveals such dilemma seen at the prestigious college. Schroeder writes a story of a freshman who is for Republicans but has worked on the Democrat campaign. The person explains the reason, "Because I so wanted to be with my roommates and with everyone else" (Schroeder, 2015). The author describes it as "the choice between social comfort and political conviction."

Isaac Inkeles ’16 is another example of a conservative student who keeps himself from arguing controversial issues. He is a former editor of Harvard Salient--conservative college newspaper--and sees same-sex marriage as a potentially dangerous change for the society. Also, he has disagreed with the option to choose preferred gender pronouns during registration: “It’s like, do we need to politicize and change the English language?” (Schroeder, 2015) However, he did not claim his argument much, feeling that "people won’t take it in good faith and just assume that it’s bigoted or irrational" (Schroeder, 2015).

The same thing is happening on Social Media. We see many people dehumanizing their adversaries and labeling others with harsh words such as "racist", "xenophobic," and "uneducated," which is totally opposed to the concept of diversity. Everyone thinks differently, based on their upbringing and ideology. Unless we develop discussions and respect otherness, we would not be able to have wider viewpoints.

As a final point, our standpoints might be concentered due to some sort of universalism--the idea that there is only one universal truth--being formed through Social Media. For instance, in 2012, fast-food franchise Chick-fil-A not only grilled chicken but also put a fire on Social Media. Dan Cathy, the president of Chick-fil-A and a Baptist, criticized gay marriage on the radio by stating that the younger generation is so prideful and arrogant that they are redefining marriage. Facebook and other Social Media users instantly reacted. Boston Mayor Tom Menino wrote a letter to Cathy, telling him that his company is not welcome in Boston. This letter was quickly spread across Social Media, where Cathy had turned into a villain, and apparently, there was a boycott on Chick-fil-A driven by the LGBTQ community. (Cote, 2012)

If someone gets blamed on Social Media, it is quite hard for him or her to fix a bad reputation. Anyone can be an influencer. Information is widely spread at the speed of light. Anyone can jump in the conversation, thus creating a huge social whirl within a few days. Thanks to the First Amendment, everyone has freedom of speech. So, what was wrong with Cathy? The underlying idea behind such phenomenon is so-called "political correctness." It is a term describing policies that keep specific groups, often defined by sex or race, from discrimination and disadvantages. The context has shifted over time, and today people may think some of the policies are excessive and have issues such as self-victimization.

In addition, Social Media companies are naturally governed by Western-centric ideas. Westerners, for example, often rebuke Japanese who hunt and eat whales despite the fact that hunting whales is strictly limited to specific purposes in Japan and they have never been over-hunted. This conflict comes from the difference between how we see the world, nature, and animals. Of course, anyone can dislike whale hunting, but we need to admit the existence of such tradition in order to vary our perspectives. I would not be surprised if Facebook adds the “save-the-whales” button someday.

Everyone is different; everyone is the same. The key to true diversity is not ignoring others or overvaluing a specific minority, but accepting the difference in how we are and how we think. You don’t have to “like” others. It’s your choice. Keep distance instead of trying to “correct” others. I hope Social Media will eventually brew such diverse culture. And I really dream of a diverse world, as one of the minorities, a Japanese expatriate in the United States.

Works Cited

Chang, Jonathan, Itamar Rosenn, Lars Backstrom, and Cameron Marlow. "EPluribus: Ethnicity on Social Networks." Proceedings of the Fourth International AAAI Conference on Weblogs and Social Media (2010): n. pag. Web.
Cote, Joseph G. "For Some, Chick-Fil-A President's Comments on Gay Marriage Crossed the Line." Telegraph, the (Nashua, NH), 27 July 2012. EBSCOhost,,ip,cpid&custid=bhc&db=nfh&AN=2W61510361656
Schroeder, Luca F. "The Elephant in the Room: Conservatives at Harvard." Commencement 2017. The Harvard Crimson, 1 Oct. 2015. Web. 26 June 2017. <>.
Vermeren, Iris. "Men vs. Women: Who Is More Active on Social Media?" Brandwatch. Brandwatch, 20 June 2016. Web. 26 June 2017. <>.

No comments:

Post a Comment