It is always shocking to the western world when a terror attack occurs in a first world country, especially one that seems perpetually stable. Monday’s hostage crisis in Australia brings difficult challenges to our sense of security, as well as tricky questions about how to move on and the power of social media.
While the Australian government and police force attempted to make sense of how it could have happened on their turf – and while media outlets attempted to construct the details – social media gave voice to the mood of the greater public.
Here are four significant reverberations which reflect the part social media has had to play:
1. The privacy debate and social media
When Edward Snowden revealed that the NSA was spying on Americans’ emails and social media, millions felt violated, even unsafe. Yet this attack has reignited the debate, giving some the impetus to demand an even higher level of inquisition. The terrorist – an Iranian named Man Haron Monis – recently pledged allegiance to ISIS on his website. This is just a mild example of what anti-terror organisations may have learned about Monis with the barest level of scrutiny.
Whatever side of the debate you’re on, it reminds us that we can no longer be sure that our lives are private. Social media exposes far more of us than we necessarily realise. Emails can contain detailed and sensitive information of business plans or financial transactions. Photos on Instagram may reveal exactly where you are or have been. While our generation loves being able to share every aspect of life, the privilege comes at the cost of living with increasingly transparent walls.
2.Uber under fire once again
Although it may look like a storm in a teacup compared to the tragedy actually taking place, Uber created a PR nightmare for themselves. As passersby attempted to flee the scene of the attack, Uber tweeted that patrons would have to pay extra to use the service, ostensibly to motivate their drivers. Twitter and Facebook have since seen a torrent of abuse and incrimination against the social media run service. Tragedies have long been a feeding ground for opportunistic corporations – news outlets get their highest ratings when catastrophe hits, and draw the aftershock out for days or months. But it’s no longer so easy to get away with it. A gaffe like this can seriously dent the reputation of a company. “The client is always right” mantra becomes more than a superficial cliché. Might the masters of consumerism soon become the slaves?
3.Is social media doing more to fuel or combat bigotry?
Australia is infamous for being, if not xenophobic, unkind to foreigners. This has been a major issue in the past, especially when it comes to refugees. But now there is a broader threat – the spread of Islam, along with the prominence of Islamic extremists, has led to Islamophobia throughout the world. Australia has had its fair share of the hysteria. An attack such as this won’t do anything to calm that particular storm. And we know how easy it is to share bigoted opinions on social media platforms. Just look through the comments section of any viral video on YouTube.
However, it also allows the voice of reason to come through, and brings together those who are against discrimination. Immediately following the siege, a Twitter hashtag has inspired Australians to actively help those affected. #illridewithyou is being used to show solidarity with Muslims afraid of hatred they might face while traveling to work. Sympathetic commuters are tweeting their routes in order that anxious Middle Easterners (or anyone in Islamic garb) can choose to travel with someone they know is on their side.
First Dog has an excellent commentary on the debate.
4.Tweets as news
One of the major portents of the imminent shift in news media is the live streaming of tweets that news corps around the world now utilise. Of course, Twitter is an effective way for journalists, politicians and public service officials to get important messages and updates to the public. But recently, the tweet of the average Joe is being given attention. News outlets recognise that their voice is no longer as powerful as it once was. By sharing feelings and opinions of the public – carefully vetted, of course – they’re attempting to adapt, placating the public’s desire for a voice while sticking to (hopefully) objective reporting and keeping up ratings.
The vast opportunities for expression clearly do wonders for free speech and open-mindedness. But only time will tell how long the mainstream media will keep up. Its relevance and necessity is one of the major social media debates of our time.