The media can put on quite a circus.

No, really. The term “media circus” refers to an event that is blown out of proportion by the news media. News media members share a spot with lawyers as one of the most disliked professions in America. With rising popularity in outlets like social media, will a “social media circus” soon join the stage?

Social media is defined as websites and applications that enable users to create and share content or to participate in social networking. The first email was sent in 1971; since then, we’ve seen a lot of advances in technology. We have the ability to communicate almost instantaneously with anyone, anywhere in the world, at any time.

Social media bridges the gap between old and new media. However, this opens the doors to more than a few social and ethical questions.

First, social media has given everyone a microphone, but as Uncle Ben famously said, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Social media has given every individual the power to share information and ideas with the entire world. People on opposite sides of the planet can read about, argue against, or agree with the opinions of people who are thousands of miles away from them. But are we using this gift with the responsibility that it undoubtedly requires?

Second, social media discourages us from filtering the information we are seeing. “All the world’s a stage,” as the Bard once wrote, and with social media we’ve given the masses their own digital stage from which to project their voices. But in recent years, politicians and members of the media have jumped on the social media bandwagon as well. Politicians can now express their ideas and opinions on any social media platform, too, and this can have significant consequences. Social media allows for an unholy alliance between journalists, politicians, and civilians.

As The Wire writes:

“Why do we need journalism when we have social media” is the rallying cry of those who have a perspective to share. If you have something to say — a cool link you saw or a photo or a review of a restaurant — you go on Facebook and Twitter and Yelp and say it. Why do you need journalists to tell you about links or how good restaurants are when you have social media?

Traditional journalism is dying a quick and painful death. A new form of journalism is arising combining media in ways we haven’t seen before. At one time journalism was crucial for the spread of information. However, people aren’t dependent upon journalists or members of the media for their information. Mass information is spread from a variety of sources, some more accurate than others. Journalists used to be the middle-man between ground breaking stories and the public. Unfortunately, social media gives everyone a chance to be a “member of the media”.

Finally, social media encourages a lack of fact-checking. How many times do you “fact check” stories that have gone viral on the Internet? I would guess your answer is “almost never” or less, which is a huge problem. Social media creates parasocial relationships between those who are idolized and the mass public. These parasocial relationships create an automatic trust in certain people, stories, or tweets. We’ve become so emotionally involved that fact-checking is almost impossible.  Because everyone has a microphone, and we don’t filter what we see, it’s easy to trick people into believing anything. Twitter announces the deaths of still-living celebrities every day, and stories containing inaccuracies and falsities go viral even more frequently. Social media allows us to live in a world full of falsehoods and fallacies.

We can’t blame it all on social media; maybe its the people operating social media.

“It’s not Twitter’s fault; Twitter’s just a tool. It’s the idea that everyone should report and re-report every trivial thing that happens (or maybe doesn’t happen) in a mad rush to be the first with it and get all the traffic.… You can’t blame technology or the applications it creates for turning us in the news business into a bunch of attention-starved maniacs who put stuff out there without checking the facts. That’s happened for years.”

The San Francisco Bay Guardian is right. Social media is a beautiful tool that can connect individuals with millions of other people. But, it’s just a tool. There are currently far too many social media abuses. These false reports and incredulous claims degrade the potential of social media. If used properly, social media can be a platform that is invaluable to journalists, politicians, and the masses at large.