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You could say I have a love-hate relationship with social media.
My name is Kiran Rana, and I'm a digital and social media editor at The Globe and Mail. A big part of my job involves being plugged into what people are talking about online, and how we as journalists can incorporate it into our coverage. At work, I spend hours scrolling through Facebook, Instagram and Twitter (my boss is cool with it). Then, I go home and flip through those same apps all over again – this time as a twentysomething-year-old feeding on the highly filtered images and words of people living their best lives.
The point is, I spend most of my time online, and lately I've been hyper aware of it.
To say that social media has transformed how we consume news would be an understatement. Recent studies show a growing number of Canadians are reading news first on Facebook. As of August 2017, 67 per cent of our neighbours to the south said they got at least some of their news on social media, with Facebook leading the pack as the most popular source. In a 24-hour news cycle, where our smartphones live in our hands, reporters and ordinary citizens are often breaking stories on Twitter or Facebook first. We have the ability to be more informed than ever.
Over the past week, some of the most popular stories on social media in terms of trending topics, most shared and furthest reach have been centred around the political disarray of the Ontario PC party in the fallout of numerous sexual misconduct allegations against former leader Patrick Brown and the subsequent resignation of the PC Party president Rick Dykstra after his own sexual assault allegations came to light. Stories about the allegations that have gripped Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's caucus – including Kent Hehr's resignation from cabinet – have also been popular. (If you're having a hard time keeping track, this list might be handy for you.)
The interest in these stories on social media shows how the #MeToo movement has evolved. Readers are incredibly engaged in both the latest breaking news surrounding the issue and ours columnists' takes on what all this means. The movement has now spanned across industries and entered into our Canadian bubble in a big way. Finally, we're not only talking about power imbalances being exploited, but we are expecting more from our leaders and discussing ways to change, including true steps towards stronger female representation. This is the power of social media at its best.
But just as we have the wonderful ability to reach out and create change, our sense of self and others tends to become skewed. We know, for example, that Facebook has been used to undermine democracy and alter public opinion. (In fact, the company finally admitted this in late January). We also know that Twitter has become an echo chamber, where we seek out like-minded friends, and miss out on stories outside of our bubble. But that echo chamber also means that when we disagree, we're not very nice about it – we pile on and type things we would probably never say in person.
A prime example of this took place on the one-year anniversary of the Quebec City mosque shooting. When columnist Denise Balkissoon wrote about remembering Jan. 29, and criticized politicians for turning a blind eye, she received comments filled with personal attacks. One person who took issue told her she represented "the worst of immigrants or child of immigrants." As a social media editor (and a child of immigrants, thank you very much), reading things like this sting, even when they aren't directed at you. The comment wasn't a one-off either. Reporters and columnists who tackle divisive issues get comments that I have a hard time believing anyone would say to their faces. Angry comments also came after The Globe's coverage of the trial in the killing of Colten Boushie, and when we ran an opinion piece about the frustration of the jury selection process. To be a social media editor, and to be constantly reading comments on stories like these, can be heartbreaking. How do you explain and correct false perceptions? How do you combat trolls? Is it even your responsibility to help someone make up their mind?
I try to remember that people won't always agree, and it is not my job to make them. My job is to present our journalism and hope you read it. But I do worry that some of the recent changes to Facebook's algorithm are going to push us even further into our echo chambers.
What else we're reading:
I recently read The New York Times' The Follower Factory, which looks into the black market of selling followers to celebrities, athletes and politicians. Devumi, the company at the heart of the investigation, is accused of stealing the identities of real people, and using those images to sell fake followers to people over Twitter. This story struck me because of the way society has monetized influence, and how much some are willing to pay to be popular. I'm also curious as to what extent this same phenomenon is present over Instagram, a platform where a large following can mean huge opportunities. It was just another reminder to take a person's online persona with a grain of salt. Nothing is ever as perfect as it seems.
Recently, Veena Dwivedi was reading a book about cognitive neuroscience of language while getting a coffee at the Fairmont hotel in Toronto. She was heading to visit her son in Montreal for his 20th birthday and preparing material for her brain and language lecture at Brock University, where she teaches in the Psychology department.
"That's a big book," the barista said to her as she ordered her coffee. Dwivedi went on to explain that she teaches classes on the subject.
With a shocked, disbelieving look on her face, the barista replied. "Oh really?"
But this is nothing new. "People consistently underestimate my intellectual ability, that I am a scientist and I have a doctorate," she says. "But you just keep getting in there."
As an Indo-Canadian woman, Dwivedi has experienced her fair share of racism and sexism growing up and moving through the STEM field. She was warned by her father when she was going into kindergarten that the teacher would never call on her because she looked different. When she was at McGill University for her undergraduate program, she was dating (and is now married to) a boy outside of her culture and tradition, and they were one of the only mixed race couples around. It caused stress with her parents and people around her. When she lived in Westmount, a suburb of Montreal, her doorman asked if she was a kindergarten teacher when told him she taught for a living. And when she ran into her former academic adviser at McGill University while completing a visiting assistant professorship, and told him she was married and just had a baby, he responded saying, "the best job in the world is being a mother," disregarding her pursuit of being a tenured professor.
But none of it stopped her. Now, Dwivedi runs her own lab on the brain and language, where she studies how the human mind understands and creates sentences. She loves her job, especially when she can help students pursue their own career paths. And she's a support person for young women in STEM. A student of hers recently got early acceptance in the same field as her, and her response, "you go girl," was a contrast to those who didn't believe in her.
"I might not be in a war zone, but I've fought a few battles, and I wanted to help be a voice for people like me," she says."I want to be the person I needed back then. Because that person wasn't here yet."
Her advice? Never fit in. Make yourself visible. Find other people who see you. And hang on.
– Shelby Blackley
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