Twitter. SnapChat. Facebook. Why do you use these? Most would cite the convenience these social networks provide in order to stay in touch with friends. It is becoming increasingly more common, however, for users to utlize these networks as news sources. But can we rely on these and other websites as responsible and legitimate sources for our information about the world?
In a society founded on principles of self-government and free speech, the media is perhaps the most powerful entity. From newspapers to broadcasts, the media is the primary means for conversation between the people and their leaders.
It is no surprise, then, that the most revolutionary invention of the past half-century provides a background for the power of media to expand to every corner of the world.
I am speaking, of course, of the Internet — a network that can instantly connects users to the other side of the world and back. It is here that news media has found substantial growth.
A century ago, it was the fantasy of newspaper printers to be able to obtain the news instantly, as it happened, from anywhere. Now, that power sits on the desks of billions of people around the world.
But is internet media really as good as it seems? Is news on the internet really the expressive pinnacle of the vox populi, or is it a perfect storm of unfiltered and irresponsible speech?
There are indeed many signs of irresponsible media on the net. Take a moment to browse through Buzzfeed or SnapChat ‘News’ and you will be hard-pressed to find a news story with substance among the seemingly endless slideshows of cute pet photos and selfies.
More dangerously, the viral culture of modern society has turned the Internet into a platform for sharing content which often has a direct negative impact on users and society.
The protection of free speech is a fundamental principle of democracy, instituted so that a variety of opinions can flourish without fear of persecution.
There is a distinct difference between freedom of speech and freedom of expression. One is protected, the other is not. In freedom of speech, persons have the right to their own opinion and the right to share it without fear of retribution.
It is up to the individuals of the community to use common sense to differentiate opinion, whether right or wrong. But in the age of the Internet, it seems that common sense is twisted by those who proclaim that any individual who expresses an opposing opinion is evil.
Whether we like it or not, Internet users are being sucked into a world in which every user is treated as an authority. Vested with this new power, many take the opportunity to maliciously attack other opinions while hiding behind a hashtag or anonymous profile. It seems that unrequited tolerance has become the governing virtue of “netiquette”. But do not be naive. There is no such thing.
Youth make up the vast majority of the Internet community. Though we can contribute to the problem, we can also be the solution. As students of the University of Dallas, we are shown that, contrary to popular belief, opinion is not evil. However, it is often misplaced, and many “news” sources fail to distinguish truth from opinion.
Responsible speech involves speaking the truth without bias when expected to do so, and offering an opinion in respectful relation to those who disagree. With the Internet, every young person is especially tasked with this responsibility — and, using the power of the media, we can set an example for others to do the same.