It’s time to rethink our social media expectations

 Just because we can access everything and everyone doesn’t mean we necessarily should 

Rhiannon Jenkins discusses why we don’t always need instant action online.

Technology has granted us knowledge in seconds, but access to everyone else as well. There are countless memes out there about how we expect a response to a text a minute before we’ve even sent it. 

I’m guilty of it too. If I haven’t heard back from my mum after a few hours, I give her a ring just to check if she’s alright. 

In the greater scheme of things, this isn’t really that big of an issue. However, it becomes a big issue when it comes to the news cycle and how we demand instantaneous action, even when we don’t always know the full scope of what’s going on. 

In recent months, a few events have highlighted just how absurd our expectations are when it comes to wanting immediate updates on constantly developing issues. 

Take, for example, the Australian bushfires. There wasn’t a day during the winter months that passed where I didn’t see a video of a bandaged koala bear on my Facebook feed or an article about the Australian prime minister’s inadequacy in my news apps’ notifications. 

None of this was necessarily bad—it brought awareness to the fires and the devastation raging across a whole nation. However, what I take issue with is several of the calls to action that accompanied the article-sharing.

Activists—or at least some of them—took this opportunity to encourage veganism amongst the Australian population, ignoring the wider environmental issues at hand.

People losing their homes and animals burning do not equate an opportunity to promote veganism. The hashtag #GoVeganForAustralia didn’t gain much traction, but was promoted by the verified Instagram account @hotforfood. Another verified influencer, @freeleethebananagirl, called out Australia’s “flesh-fetish” for “burning [their] country to a crisp.”

Now, I’m not an expert but I am a vegetarian. You can’t blame uncontrollable fires and half a million animal deaths solely on individuals who eat meat. Maybe exploitative corporations—and a government that’s ignored proven Aboriginal practices which might have avoided the blazes in the first place—require more widespread focus instead.

Hundreds of people also shared posts to their social media stories by accounts claiming they would donate a certain amount of money for every story they were featured in. The same happened with Instagram account @tentree, which promised to plant a tree in Indonesia for every 10 likes on the original post. 

But it’s hard to imagine that every person who circulated these posts checked the validity of the accounts that posted them before sharing their content online.

Similarly, following the #BlueForSudan movement on social media, it took a national news investigation to discredit the hundreds of scam accounts that gained thousands of followers after claiming they were sending meals to people in Sudan.

Despite the success of this investigation, we can’t rely on others to point out when something is suspicious. People need to do their own fact-checking and ensure they know what they’re promoting. 

And it’s not just individuals and companies on social media who need to take a second sometimes. Established news outlets have done even worse. 

Take TMZ reporting Kobe Bryant’s death before his family was alerted and the police investigation was complete. I can’t imagine anything worse than finding out you’ve lost members of your family through an article shared on Facebook. The world knowing you’ve lost a loved one before you do isn’t right.

When LeBron James, another Lakers player and Bryant’s friend, started an Instagram post dedicated to Bryant, he began by writing, “I’m Not Ready but here I go.” It continued in the same vein, until he closed by saying, “There’s so much more I want to say but just can’t right now because I can’t get through it!”

People expected a response from him and so he gave a response—and a heartfelt one. But it’s not fair that he had to do so out of a sense of duty. It’s cruel that his silence was questioned as anything but shock and pain. Everyone should have the ability to mourn the sudden death of a loved one privately, whether they’re famous or not. 

I understand that we’re used to celebrities sharing everything with us. Part of being an influencer now is sharing every aspect of your life, both the ups and the downs. It’s another way to make money and gain followers. 

We feel entitled to the details of every celebrity’s life because some choose to share every aspect of them. But we aren’t entitled to anyone’s life. 

Our expectation of constant online action pushes people to grieve publicly. 

James shouldn’t have felt even remotely pressured into releasing a statement if he wasn’t ready. However, it might not just have been his celebrity status that pressured him into saying something. Instead, it could be our broader cultural sentiment. 

When my best friend passed away suddenly the summer before my first year of university, I posted an Instagram of the two of us a few days later. It didn’t have an emotional caption attached because I wasn’t speaking to a worldwide fanbase. It was, however, a post that came from feeling like I had to share something about him publicly because other people wanted me to. 

Other friends of his were uploading pictures—people who hadn’t been as close to him as I was. They wrote memorials on his Facebook profile and sent love to his family online. I wondered if they were sitting on the other side of their screens thinking I didn’t care because I hadn’t posted anything, and I didn’t want anyone to think I didn’t care. So I posted, prioritizing their opinions over the reality of my pain.

Social media and the way we can and do share information and thoughts immediately has tricked us into thinking we should share every detail of our lives and those of others immediately. 

We’ve come to believe that we’re owed information without hesitation, and that we owe our own information to others. It’s led us to cross boundaries that were only built over the last decade or so. 

Don’t get me wrong: I don’t think social media is inherently bad, but this impulse still isn’t natural, especially when it comes to grief. 

Maybe that impulse was what vegan activists felt when they attacked fellow Australians for a meat-eating lifestyle. 

Anger is understandable in the face of adversity, and given the extreme nature of the loss, it makes sense that activists’ grief was realized in demanding radical change.  

Grief for a dying planet is just as valid and overwhelming as grief for a lost one. There’s even science behind it. 

But those feelings do not need to go online. Grief is and can be a private and intimate process if we give everyone the respect and privacy they deserve.

We aren’t all 911 responders. Texts and calls can wait. People can wait. And we should learn to wait. 

Knowledge should be public, but grief doesn’t have to be.

Rhiannon Jenkins is a third-year English student. 


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