Thought Catalog

5 Ways Social Media Fans The Flames Of Controversy

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We are no strangers to controversy. It’s been part of our existence for thousands of years and social media has added fuel to the fire of controversy faster than anything else in recent history. We’ve partnered with ABC’s AMERICAN CRIME premiering January 6 at 10|9c because of how timely and relevant the story line is to the ongoing discussion of how social media affects our society. The new season follows an entirely new story exploring what happens to a community when a high school party gets out of control, photos are leaked, major accusations start flying, and how social media truly affects it all. Below are five of the ways social media can turn gossip and speculation into the biggest issue of the year.

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1. Information spreads incredibly quickly.

Social behavior, for the most part, has not significantly changed in the last few decades. People have always said controversial things, gotten out of control at parties, and done things they regret. What’s changed is that today, no matter where you are, the world is always watching. Over 190 million Americans use smartphones today, meaning almost everyone can hear about anything, immediately[1]. With cameras and social media at your fingertips, a single moment can be catapulted into a wider cultural discussion in seconds.

Photos can be uploaded instantly for better or worse, and, as we see in American Crime, young people have been conditioned to whip out their phones at lightning speed to capture any tidbit of gossip. In the premiere, a socially awkward student named Taylor, played by Connor Jessup, comes to school to find upsetting photos of himself intoxicated at a party being shared around the entire community. Given Taylor’s standing among his peers as an outsider both socially and culturally, we’re left to wonder what really happened at the party. Did he just have too much to drink, or did something darker take place? When we live in an era where any mistakes can be shared, retweeted, reposted, hashtagged, and screenshotted in one second – speculation like this can spread like wildfire.

2. Everything can be misinterpreted.

As soon as you post something – a picture, a video, a spur-of-the-moment rant – it is no longer yours to monitor, protect, and regulate. It now belongs to the Internet. You can upload a photo without thinking too heavily about it, you can hastily post a Snapchat to your story, you can fire off a tweet in a moment of frustration… and if someone notices something controversial about it, you will not be able to control where it goes or how it is explained. Even the troubling pictures of Taylor intoxicated in the premiere of American Crime leave everyone from school administrators, parents, teachers, coaches and community leaders all with their own biases, conclusions, and opinions on the situation.

3. It takes very little time for a tiny mistake to blow up in your face.

Celebrities have lost endorsement deals for similar reasons. Even people outside of the spotlight have lost their jobs due to social media gaffes. In fact, according to the Hiring Site, powered by Career Builder, the number of employers reviewing candidates’ web profiles has risen steadily in the past few years – from 39 percent in 2013, to 43% in 2013, and 52% in 2014[2]. So it doesn’t take much for a simple post, or in this series a photo upload, on social media to have very serious consequences.

4. We have a platform for unfiltered commentary.

Just fifteen years ago, if you had a strong stance on a hot-button political issue, or a television program offended you, the most you could do was vent to someone in your social circle at happy hour. But now, we have access to a portal that instantly connects us to millions of other people and their opinions. Tweets and statuses provide us with instant gratification, so we often say things without filtering ourselves or thinking twice about the consequences of what we’re doing.

Students are able to create and distribute their own hurtful narratives by leaving slanderous public comments and major accusations that spread through social media and their schools. We’ve all heard about cyberbullying, but according to a 2015 report by the Cyberbullying Research Center it has spread so widely among youth that 34.4% reported having been victims[3]. Hiding behind a screen with the victims out of site, the consequences are less apparent. If the ramifications were more readily and publicly evident, would teens be more careful with their words online

5. Nothing is ever fully deleted.

From sex scandals involving politicians to the large-scale celebrity nude photo hack of 2014, ‘deleting’ something in today’s world means something much different than deleting something twenty years ago. Attempts to destroy incriminating photos and comments are impossible once they’re live and shared around the web.

You can throw a Polaroid in the fire, you can destroy confidential documents in your trusted paper shredder, but there’s really no way to be sure that everything on your phone and computer is truly safe from the outside. In American Crime, humiliating and potentially incriminating photos are being sent around the community. Even if one person deletes them, they belong to the internet and will still be publicly accessible for better or worse. TC mark

Tune in to see how the controversy unfolds. Check out the new season, and new story of American Crime when it returns to ABC January 6 at 10|9c.

Kim Quindlen

I'm a staff writer for Thought Catalog. I like comedy and improv. I live in Chicago. My Uber rating is just okay.

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