The millennial generation has been stereotyped ad nauseum. We’re labeled as entitled, unmotivated, addicted to social media and electronic devices; the list is endless. The notorious Fyre Festival disaster of 2017 seemingly proved many of those characteristics to be true of the dozens of people who bought tickets to the highly coveted event only to wind up stranded on an island with no infrastructure, food, shelter and least of all music. However, the recent release of Hulu’s documentary, Fyre Fraud, illustrates a larger issue with social media advertising, offering a hard dose of reality to those who use it and a warning to those who might seek to abuse it.
As a child of the early ‘90s, I’ve witnessed firsthand how technology – the internet and cellphones in particular – has monumentally changed the world.
It should be emphasized that technology and change are not negative things. Not only does technology help us in countless ways, but evolving and building upon forward progress to create change is a natural phenomenon that can’t be stopped. Nor should it. That being said, watching this documentary I came to understand that being a generation of influencers also means that we are a generation under influence.
That balance is further exemplified when you consider how in every way social media has changed lives for the better, it’s also brought equally significant consequences. The ability for people to connect with friends regardless of where they are in the world is offset by the rise of fake news. The invention of the highly attractive social media influencer career is countered by an increase in online bullying. Not to mention the sale of personal data, election meddling, and worst of all for millennials, the discovery of social media by baby boomers.
Social media has also created a lot of gray area in terms of regulation, and the various ethical issues that come with presenting false or exaggerated realities. For instance, how much is Jerry Media, the marketing genius behind Fyre Festival, to blame for the crisis on the island? Technically they were just doing their job, and doing it well. However, if they knew what they were portraying as a tropical luxury experience wasn’t anything more than a few disaster relief tents and cheese sandwiches, what obligation did they have to stop promoting the festival? What obligation does any media company have to the public audiences they’re targeting?
This is just one of the many questions that we millennials will have to answer for ourselves as issues like Fyre Festival or worse come to light. One thing that’s clear however is that social media is not the enemy. The answer is not to abandon our devices, ban social media and “make PR great again.” Instead, we need to proceed with caution.
Despite the stereotypes, millennials are smart, resilient, and adamant about creating a better world for ourselves and future generations among other things. Knowing what we know about social media – being firsthand experts on the subject – we need to make sure we’re asking ourselves the right questions when encountering a post, ad or story and encouraging others to do the same. In recognizing that our newsfeeds are only a fraction of the full picture, we need to be asking ourselves, what am I being sold here? Does this event or product seem too good to be true? Who stands to gain something from my “like” or “follow,” and is that message something I want to personally endorse? These questions are especially crucial today when your entire social media history is open to anyone from potential employers, partners or members of the general public to search and question at any time.
With all that in mind, if you’re ever unsure about the authenticity of a post or image on social media, here are a few resources you can employ to double check:
- Reverse Google image search – this is as simple as going to images.google.com and uploading the image you want to search. Google will then let you know if that image really came from the context in which you saw it or if it was taken from somewhere else, often at another time, and repurposed for another use.
- Snopes – this website can help you authenticate the validity of a piece of news or claim you read online. It’s widely regarded as the oldest and largest fact-checking site online, highly used by journalists and all types of readers as a valuable research companion.
- Look out for clear signs a photo has been tampered with including:
- Is anything in the background warped or distorted? If so, the image was likely photoshopped poorly as the visible fix for one area of the photo resulted in a distortion in another area
- If it’s a person, do they have visible pores and/or facial lines? If not, the image was likely airbrushed heavily (everyone has pores!)
- Is everything in the image in sharp focus? Even the background? If so, that image has likely been photoshopped, no real camera can capture everything in perfect focus.
- Refer to a media bias chart such as this one to determine if a particular news story or the source it originated from has a political bias you should consider when reading.
With the right mindset and good intentions, social media can be a powerful and useful tool both in a personal and professional setting. And while sometimes we have to learn lessons the hard way, I have faith that ultimately we’ll answer these tough questions in a way that will continue to propel our generation and future generations forward toward an even better future.