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System overload: why restraint on social media is vital in a digital age

<h6>Photo Credit: Ans Nawaz / The Daily Princetonian</h6>
Photo Credit: Ans Nawaz / The Daily Princetonian

The world has gone through turmoil in 2020, with a wide variety of events capturing our headlines each week. Our consumption of these enormous levels of new information is facilitated through social media, where millions of posts are shared as a method of both activism and information sharing.

The ways we use social media have changed significantly in the past few months. Long Instagram stories sharing activist posts used to be limited to a few of our most passionate student activists — now we have entered an age where one of the most common uses of social media is for sharing posts about causes that we care about. This is especially true in posts from students who attend our university, who tend to engage in a variety of social, political, and cultural issues.

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If what we post to social media becomes more profound, we must match that depth by taking how we post into deeper consideration. More deliberation needs to take place between the moment we begin first reading a post and when we tap share.

Mollika Singh ’24, in her excellently composed column, writes about making informed, meaningful decisions when it comes to promoting your cause on social media. I share many of Singh’s beliefs when it comes to using social media to share information. I only add that in addition to being concerned with what we post, it is of utmost importance to reflect on how we share our content on social media as well, especially given the changing level of depth surrounding how we use it.

This is especially true for us as Princeton students. Like it or not, we have to recognize that by attending an elite institution, we are seen as credible sources of information for others. This creates a responsibility: Even though not every one of our followers will read our posts, there will be individuals who will either try to learn from our posts or share them. We can disseminate information to a broad audience, and so we must be careful when considering how much to share.

Social media audiences may ignore large quantities of posts, dismissing them as spam compared to information that is more filtered and meaningfully chosen. Just think of the dozens of emails we receive each day from the same student organizations about allegedly “exciting” virtual activities. This poses a significant concern when every post is similar, if not identical in nature. If we share posts that we care about, we should make sure to avoid posting so much of the same content that followers skip through our stories or feed. Instead, it is imperative to convey information that is most meaningful to us.

It is also crucial that we consider who we are interacting with. The potential audience of social media is vast, and while most of our followers may share similar political views, there are also individuals who don’t, or family members from different generations that may not be as passionate about rights or politics as we are. If our purpose is to spread awareness to individuals who may not be as cognizant of what we believe is meaningful, it is our duty to make our points strategically, not excessively.

The world is moving rapidly toward new media, and social media has become a major source for news and information. While it may not be regarded as valid by older generations, social media’s legitimacy may very well increase along with our reliance on it. Although there are many salient arguments against embracing social media, the world’s relationship with social media overall will inevitably grow stronger.

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By no means do I wish to encourage self-censorship; this would go against the principle of social media in the first place, a medium founded upon a basis of self-expression. But by taking moderation into account when using social media as a medium for activism, we can help legitimize social media as a source for information. At the moment, information from such media carries a stigma of unreliability, yet we can take steps to take more care in how we use social media today.

We live in a changing world with changing values and technologies. If we wish for our changes to be respected, we must act respectably as well.

Won-Jae Chang is a first-year from New York City and Seoul, South Korea. He can be reached at wonjaec@princeton.edu.

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