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How can social media sites (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) be forces for good/ill in the world? Use an example case study as support.
News has been transformed over the last twenty years or so and one of the latest platforms is social media. Social media is one of the biggest outlets for getting any form of information across to the public immediately and 24 hours a day. As such, just like any media outlet, there will always be good and bad forces behind the media content being produced.
Social media engages public attention as an immediate platform for getting news out there. This form of media is extremely volatile as it is easy for any member of the public to gain access to it, along with placing their own views and content into the public eye.
A recent event, on 9th April 2017, that has been brought to light via all media platforms is an incident between United Airlines and the assault their staff committed on a paying customer as he refused to leave the plane.
This impacted on the public as Dr Dao had already paid for his plane ticket and therefore reserved the right to take the flight he had booked, along with everyone else on the plane. Consequently, this gave him the right to board the plane, as he was entitled to get home safely, just like every other individual passenger boarding; he had no bad intentions, and was only travelling home to get back to his family and job.
Furthermore, this act was taken out of hand, as the incident caused chaos and frantic behaviour; this could have an impact on Dr Dao for the rest of his life; causing trauma and distress. Additionally, Dr Dao was selected at random meaning this could have happened to anyone on the plane.
The incident itself was isolated, as the only people who knew what was happening were on the plane, which were the minority who only then reached out to social media outlets that they had access to. Concluding this, it only became so publicised due to the public reaching out to the social media platforms, to gain an active following, although not knowing millions over the world would view and share their video as a response to the attack. Live footage of the assault accentuates the violent act and creates more of a shock factor. A visual image impacting on the public and creating a quicker response. This allows a story to have a greater impact on how public can be treated unfairly and positively engage people to do something about it. However, at the same time social media live streaming like this can have a negative effect which often snowballs into more uproar and public outcry and turn a story into an even more distorted headline. I have found a case study which outlines the power of social media regarding this incident. I will outline how the power of media influences the story, but in addition how it can blow things out of proportion, and twist the event itself. The study outlines a few points such as how quickly social media engaged with the incident, how United Airlines responded on social platforming and how even some members of the public began reacting to the incident as if it was something to laugh at and make jokes out of. In this essay, I plan on exploring how social media generates both good and ill forces and back up my points with that of those in this study.
Firstly, as the incident was taking place, many passengers began recording and uploading the violence on mobile devices, within minutes of it taking place. The study outlines that even before the plane had landed many people had uploaded videos which were being watched all over the world. This suggests the immediate shock response from the passengers on board, who were viewing such a vulgar and disturbing scene, they couldn’t take their eyes off the situation even though they were emotionally disturbed. This shocking event caught the public eye straight away through the means of YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. With videos and people’s thoughts being shared of the incident, it was to no surprise that the word was spreading fast. Presenting to us that it was a more effective way than word of mouth, as the news would travel faster. This is a great and powerful thing about social media which has the upper hand on other outlets – it is quick, easy and free for the public to use resulting in word spreading fast. Additionally, the news flows around, reflecting on how the minority can impact and make change, as more people can conform to the other powerful messages, the messages then make up the majority. “In sum, we have seen that attitudes can be measured in different ways. Attitudes have consequences on how we think and act (Allport, 1935). Thus, measuring different aspects of attitudes can help to predict how people eventually act”. Therefore, if the majority act, our attitude becomes more driven towards helping the victim and gaining justice from the attack. Other outlets usually must wait for approval before they can be publicised which the public will then have to pay for making it less appealing than social networking as a form of staying in touch with the media. Other media platforms usually have to comply with The Law of the Land, before news can be printed, however social media is allowed to ignore this. Anonymity of the person involved in such an event can also be granted in the printed news, however there is no requirement for this kind of protection on social media.
On the other hand, we have only spoken thus far about how the public have used social media effectively to inform more and more people about the incident. In contrast to this, members of the public began making internet memes, making this incident out to be a joke rather than seeing the seriousness within the event itself. People were sharing negative quotes such as “not enough seating, prepare for a beating”. This type of humour is aimed toward the United Airlines in means to mock them and hurt their business however, it is unfair to make jokes out of such a serious event. These ill-mannered memes do not promote the incident as a serious assault but more of a satire, in which they were using as an element of entertainment, showing how social media can be used in a much more harmful way, exploiting the man on board who was violently assaulted. In this case, social media has been used as a negative force and has promoted such an event to be less than what it was, not intent on sharing any full and complete factual story behind the attack on the doctor.
United Airlines engaged themselves with the public by writing a poor Twitter message informing people that they deeply apologised for only having to “re-accomodate customers”, however they did not acknowledge the harm and physical injuries that Dr Dao suffered that day. Oscar Munoz, the CEO of United Airlines only acted to twitter, two days after, showing how long their response had taken, and how poorly they had dealt with the situation. Recalling their message, they stated “this is an upsetting event to us all here at United. I apologise for having to reaccomodate these customers. Our team is moving with a sense of urgency to work with our authorities and conduct our own detailed review of what happened. We are also reaching out to this passenger to talk directly to him and further address and resolve the situation”. The full intention of their message was not expressed clearly and therefore perceived wrongly. Moreover, this made the situation worse as it created uproar and accusations that led to people commenting on the United Airlines as a poor company, with no empathy towards the passenger and what he was dealing with in the aftermath. In this case, social media is bad as things were blown out of proportion with this message.
Ironically, Oscar Munoz, CEO of United Airlines had been given the title of best communicator in March 2017 by PR Magazine. Rather embarrassingly, this isolated incident took place just one month later on 9th April 2017. Not only was the incident one of mistreatment of a paying customer but United Airlines failed to respond quickly or adequately enough. Indeed, the company failed to give a sufficient apology to Dr Dao and his wife or to acknowledge his hospitalisation and injuries. The incident escalated into a global PR disaster. In addition, a leaked email from the CEO to his airline staff claimed that they had followed correct company procedures and described the customer as disruptive and belligerent.
Additionally, Dr Dao later claimed that he was the one forced off the plane due to his ethnic background. Due to social media being so volatile, this assault may be interpreted as more than what it was initially, it may even be interpreted and perceived as a hate crime. Social media will create a spark about this and it will inevitably affect the airline’s relationship with its customers in the future. This is negative as social media can always twist things and change the way the incident actually happened.
Overall, we can infer that social media has a lasting impact because it highlights important stories like this showing the mistreatment of members of the public, using a visual medium that not only creates an immediate shock response but simultaneously addresses the issues which may only make small news in printed format.
Furthermore, social media is a platform for public opinion, be that positive or negative, giving a voice for more people in society to be heard and acknowledged and bringing to light something which requires a large company to respond to. As a positive medium, social media such as Twitter, Facebook and Youtube may highlight other similar stories, effectively providing information for public awareness. It also brings large companies under the microscope, being questioned about their customer service and demanding a response from them to take positive improvements as well as having to make a public apology. Negatively, this immediate, 24 hour live streaming of such events can also create violent public responses; turn a story into something bigger than the initial situation and create a headline around a focus which was not part of the initial story, i.e. one of racial discrimination. Moreover, the power of social media shows how one isolated incident can become a global PR disaster for the company involved. A smaller incident a short time later on a United Airlines aircraft, where a large bunny died on board a flight from London to Chicago, made news, which wouldn’t have occurred otherwise. This shows how the impact of social media highlighting a situation where then the public will watch every move the company makes in the future.
Ultimately, social media has the upper hand on other media outlets as it is members of the public who generally control the medium. It is also available during any time of the day meaning it is the best media outlet in terms of accessibility.
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