March 25, 2016

MOHAPATRA | What’s in an opinion?

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Photo Courtesy of Buzzfeed

Having devoted the better part of my free time to social media (and not proudly so), it has been remarkable to witness the  transformation in the kind of material that crops up in my feed. There have been  tangible shifts, to the extent that everyone I know seems to have become a political activist at some level. Recently though, I have gotten into too many spats with people who have pulled out articles they saw on their Facebook feed on the alleged perpetuation of rape culture by the present-day Indian society, or people who have quoted a friend’s tweet verbatim to back up their point about the presidential primaries, only to stand corrected after being presented with a news report that speaks otherwise. I have become extremely wary of these quickly formulated opinions: while everyone is at perfect liberty to air theirs, generalized statements featuring charged words make me immediately put my guard up.

I think this largely stems from my worries about where such opinions originate and whether they are informed or not. With the growing prowess of social media activism, I have scrolled through paragraph after paragraph that throw at me highly polarized viewpoints, all compelling in their own right. However, time and again, I have chanced upon some of these viewpoints founded on inaccurate facts or shoddy sources, offering not only a biased account, but also a misinformed one.  There is no doubt that people are entitled to have whatever opinion that they wish to formulate, but the moment they try to pass off such an opinion under the premise of being a fact in itself (positive versus normative voices), or have an immensely powerful belief in a statement rooted in inaccuracy, I feel there is a problem. Given that so many around me, at a place like Cornell – who I would like to believe are better informed than the vast majority – have confessed to relying on Facebook or Twitter as a significant news source, I can only imagine to what extent this (mis)information and uninformed opinion might percolate at other places.

Of course you have every right to be a social media activist; activism in any form that promotes awareness is always welcome. That said, while you have every right to it, the sheer influence of social media imposes a certain responsibility on you as an activist. My problem with this is not that someone wrote something that they felt. My problem is that there are hundreds of others reading what they felt, and when these feelings appear to be news accounts rather than opinions, or when these opinions are based on inaccuracy, it only feels fair that the writers realize the burden of responsibility associated with their activism. As individuals with increasing social media outreach, we must be careful of the social responsibility that comes along with every comment, post, or share. It is now easier to stir a hive than it has ever been before. However, when this stirring carries with it the stigma of being uninformed or inaccurate, it carries with it the burden of being misleading.

Tanisha is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences studying Government, Economics and Creative Writing. White mochas, Bajri and The Knox Writers’ House feature on her current list of favorite things. She blogs on alternate Fridays this semester and can be reached at [email protected].