Social media has changed the flow of information and public discourse, detaching it from geographic boundaries. Thanks to social media, almost everyone is exposed to events such as recent events in Eastern Europe, at least at a superficial level.
There is, therefore, an increasing recognition of global events and how they might ripple out and impact individual worlds.
After the pandemic, social unrest, and political challenges of the last few years, speaking up is a way to weigh in, and, thanks to the interactivity of social media, of being heard. The situation in Ukraine is a powder keg on a global scale; people want to ‘have a say’ about things that can ultimately affect all of us, whether one is an expert, influencer, or neither. People also get emotionally triggered by dangerous events.
Taking a stand is validated by the number of celebrities and influencers from all over the world that speak up. Unfortunately, the sheer number of sources also contributes to misinformation. While there is always a sense of peer pressure when “everyone” seems to be doing something, a media literate approach says that one should use critical thinking to evaluate the information and decide for oneself how to best address the situation, and determine if it needs addressing.
In essence: Resist the urge to participate before thinking it through. Will my comments offend? How will my colleagues perceive my public statements, and could I address my feelings on a different platform? We should not feel obligated to take a stand on social media any more than we should feel compelled to post any other opinion or event because it is trending.
The conversations on social media are also constructing and promoting specific narratives (heroes, villains) to make sense of what is happening in Ukraine. My research has demonstrated how people crave a clear narrative structure in entertainment, but reality isn’t much different. We still need our worlds to make sense.
Pamela Rutledge, PhD, is a scholar-practitioner, integrating her expertise in media psychology with 20+ years as a media producer. A member of the faculty at Fielding Graduate University since 2008, Dr. Rutledge teaches in the areas of brand psychology, audience engagement and narrative meaning. Dr. Rutledge consults with entertainment companies, such as 20th Century Fox Films and Warner Bros., on data strategies and audience narratives. Dr. Rutledge has published both academic and popular work, including a text on positive psychology and psychological appeal for fans of the Twilight Saga and resilience in the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. She has also written book chapters on meaning-making and fandom, transmedia narrative engagement, and positive media psychology. She authors “Positively Media” for Psychology Today and is also a frequent expert source on media use and popular culture for media outlets such as The NY Times, The BBC World and ABC News. She holds a PhD and an MBA.