It’s a bit of a cliché, but I’m going to repeat it anyway: Words are powerful things, and we should be careful with how we use them.
Being products, exemplars and standards of the age of social media, we’ve all heard about the importance of protecting our online profiles: No incriminating photos of underage or illegal activities, nothing that might cost you your job, nothing that might prevent your employment desirability in the first place.
But sometimes we seem to forget about the other things we submit for the reading pleasure of all Internet-savvy people – the captions for our pictures, our late-night status updates, our frustrated tweets.
As an English major, I like to think that I appreciate the power of words: to me, they can be just as intoxicating and provocative as the substance in your red Solo cup in that Facebook picture you just untagged. Still, it’s easy to forget that what we say on Facebook or Twitter can have far-reaching reverberations.
But think about what an impact Facebook-driven communication has had just in the last few days.
After Mark Zuckerberg announced a new partnership with Donate Life America in an effort to boost the number of registered organ donors on Tuesday, thousands of people have registered in the past few days.
Other recent news events have reiterated the impact that outreach through social media can have upon important issues.
After the recent measures the Vatican has taken to govern more strictly American nuns and sisters, some priests took to Twitter to defend the women religious, while others soon reappropriated the hashtag #WhatSistersMeanToMe to voice their support for the Catholic Church’s actions.
A similar situation occurred with the President Obama-launched hashtag #dontdoublemyrate: The petition to Congress to prevent increasing student loan interest rates was promptly hijacked by conservatives tweeting about high gas prices and unemployment rates.
The impact that words can have has been causing quite a stir outside of social media as well.
After years of media criticism of the fashion industry’s unrealistic and extreme beauty standards, Vogue editors around the world have signed a pledge to not “knowingly” hire models younger than 16 or those who appear to have an eating disorder ().
Does anyone else think that those words were phrased very, very carefully?
The inclusion of “knowingly” seems a bit like a “don’t ask, don’t tell” sort of excuse, and judging a model’s health based upon what an eating disorder “appears” to be to a fashion editor makes a very serious, and too often deadly, medical problem seem subjective.
In an age where people announce major life events like marriage and childbirth to their friends and family in 140 characters or less, it’s important for us to remember to make those characters count.
Our words are influential, controversial, manipulative, facts that can easily get lost in the excitement of your well-connected social media life.
And let’s not forget that our words are also dangerous.
In the U.S., words sometimes seem more disposable because we have a virtually unlimited supply of our own to use according to our every whim – like pennies, seemingly trivial and impractical, except maybe when used with a few dollar bills.
But consider exchange rates: In places like Mexico, where journalists have been savagely murdered for the words and images that they publish, those pennies add up quickly and seem to have a bit more inherent value.
As young adults living in the social media age, we should think carefully and critically about everything that we write online: Our words are priceless and meaningful, even when stuffed into 140 characters.
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