Written by: Huong Nguyen
As Martin L. King once said, "Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness."
The popular culture tends to prototype altruism with a superhero like Batman or Superman, capable of otherworldly abilities to save the world. Yet, as a Gen-Zer in our generation, I am appalled as this trait seem to be losing its luster along with superhero comics and films. From illusive selfie filters to curative, three hours edited post to compete for followers and likes, social media has distorted reality and turned people into self-centered narcissists.
For those unfamiliar, altruism is a psychological concept comes from the French word altruisme. Altruistic behaviors varied on a spectrum, and commonly characterized as showing generous tendencies, kindness , or helpfulness not for any personal intentions or done based on the intrinsic motivation for better goods. This innate trait that has been passed down through the evolution process. Because of group selection, people have always had a better chance or survival when living with others than being alone. It seems likely that those that are cooperative with others had a chance of surviving as the fittest.
However, altruism is rather behaviorally learned than inherited; and therefore, it’s also logical for egoism to be a result of subconscious learning from social media platforms. With mass of individuals competing against each other for engagement and interaction, this self-focus tendency spill over into self-absorption. People begin to treat moments of their lives as a hashtagging opportunity, and their reflexive behaviors are continually reinforced by likes and shares that bring dopamine to the brain, and gradually they become addicted. This shameless self-promotion lets people to do dehumanizing actions, such as taking selfies with corpses and funerals. Another effect of interaction with people online is a decreased personal responsibility, which goes against altruistic characteristics.
The primary reason why negative ideals like racism or cyberbullying still survives is that these ideas are being passed down through generations, and now as in contemporary times past from one post to another. Whereas, the amount of hatred received does not seem to affect, but rather it encourages it. The Bystander Effect happens when people just like for like or swipe through these negative posts because they do not feel the need to take action.
According to them, the responsibility for action is shared among all people that see the posts. If the number of bystanders outweighs the hate, people are more encouraged to write hate speech on social media. Adding to that is the concept of group polarization, which indicates that people of shared opinions will support each other’s ideas, and in this case reward and stimulate their opinions.
On social media, the consequences for actions that would otherwise be socially unacceptable is diminished. The social exchange theory states the goal of relationships is maximizing benefits and minimizing costs. People who benefit from the suffering of others such as scammers can use social media where they feel less guilt and are less inclined to be altruistic. Despite its negative effects, many fundraising campaigns and charities also rely on social media to further spread their fundings, such the Cancer Research UK, whom raised eight million from no-makeup selfies.
Rather than critiquing social media platforms, our society as a whole should increase altruistic exposure by building empathy through empathetic advertisements and open-discussion to global issues.
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