Lizzy Xie, Stephanie Liu, Catherine Lomond, Online News Editor, Staff Writers
// The last of the blue Instagram profile photos for the Sudan massacre have disappeared. The outraged posts about restricting abortion rights have slowed to a stop. Even the most skilled Instagram user would be hard-pressed to find a post about the Pulse shooting. Instagram stories have long since moved on to the next topic: The Amazon Rainforest fire, a pressing environmental issue.
With the speed at which information circulates through the internet, there is no time to digest the news before the next crisis hits and draws attention elsewhere.
High schoolers facilitate this frantic sharing of information on their Instagram stories, and Acalanes students are no exception.
Within the last few months, the increased number of students using social media has become a new form of “activism.”
“Unlike newspaper or mail that can be ignored one day or forgotten the next, social media pops up constantly on our phones. This focuses people on current events immediately,” senior Nicole Wan said.
According to a survey conducted by Blueprint, 81.2 percent of students read others’ stories about current events.
The new form of activism comes in part from the convenience of posting about topics that individuals are interested in. News accounts on Instagram have information packaged and ready for sharing. While easy to read, this ready-to-go news package also allows for the rapid spreading of fake news.
Instagram stories last 24 hours and allow users to share a variety of content with temporary commitments, in contrast to regular posts which remain on a user’s page.
One student, junior Ryland Nella, regularly posts about current events. He pulls many of his current event stories from Buzzfeed News but stays vigilant of the information he posts.
“[Buzzfeed is] not always the best, but I always check it and double-check it if there’s other things about it,” Nella said.
Nella further describes how easy it is for a post to spread across mutual accounts.
“Sometimes, a lot of people take some of my stuff and put it on their stories, so it’s like a rerun,” Nella said.
While many students have good intentions from posting news on their stories, the convenient nature of social media makes it easy for students to fall victim to the new concept of story scamming, in which many companies take advantage of the sheer amount of stories that are spread.
Recently, a company called “Plant-A-Tree Co.” used the rapid spreading of stories to benefit their own company. To do this, the company claimed to plant one tree for every time an image from their account was shared.
However, it turned out that this company took advantage of social media users’ concern for the environment to gain money without actually following through with their promise to plant trees.
Senior Kara Mickas acknowledges the fact that social media makes it easier for fake or sensationalized news to make its way into mainstream media. Fact-checking today is more relevant than ever to prevent scams and fake news from spreading.
“We need to remember to seek accurate, reliable news sources in favor of trusting everything we see on social media,” Mickas said.
Increasingly, social media acts as a news source for students who do not follow other news outlets, as in the case of senior Helena Pratt-Holmberg.
“I’m spending most of my time on social media platforms, which means I’m getting most of my information from social media platforms,” Pratt-Holmberg said, conceding that social media news is not the most reliable source.
Wan agrees that some students, in the absence of another attention-grabbing news source, are unable to stay updated about current events or important topics unless seenon social media.
“I’d like to believe that posts do raise awareness for our school community, helping pull Acalanes students out of our ‘bubble’ and more into current and worsening predicaments like climate change,” Wan said.
Wan cites a relative lack of conversation about current events on campus–outside of classes such as AP Environmental Science and Contemporary Issues–as part of the reason kids are “sheltered” and therefore must turn to sources from social media to become aware of pressing contemporary issues.
According to Mickas, the current event posts should serve as starting points for further research.
“Sometimes, a more obscure post about current events will be informative,” Mickas said. “However, in that case, I’ll go to a more reliable news source for further information, if I’m curious.”
Pratt-Holmberg agrees that current event Instagram stories only scratch the surface of the stories they try to cover. She expresses her irritation towards the ineffectiveness of social media news to encourage action.
“The thing that annoys me the most about Instagram news is that people aren’t giving solutions,” Pratt-Holmberg said.
However, given high schoolers’ limited resources and time, posting about current events may be the most efficient way for students to respond to what’s going on in the world.
Sophomore Aly Kirke posts about current events on her Instagram story to take action and spread awareness. In addition, posting helps her project an image of herself which she can feel proud of.
“Personally, I feel like if I don’t post, it makes me an ignorant person, which is not what I want to share and put out into the world,” Kirke said.
Kirke acknowledges, though, that the intentions behind those who post these current event stories may seem inauthentic.
“It’s kind of hard to tell if people are just doing it because they want people to think that they keep up with what’s going on,” Kirke said. “They probably do it to make themselves seem like a good person.”
Self-promotion certainly plays into the current event story phenomenon; it is difficult to differenciate between those posting with good intentions and those simply maintaining a certain image.
“Your Instagram is all about you, so it’s kind of like showing: ‘oh look at me, look how political I am, look what I’m aware of’ kind of thing,” digital design teacher Chris Busse said.
Pratt-Holmberg agrees that students post about current events to demonstrate their active engagement in the world around them.
“People are posting because they want to appear as if they care about an issue, and they may care about it,” Pratt-Holmberg said.
However, the lack of presented solutions undermines the image of commitment to the issues they post about.
Sophomore Elijah Pockell-Wilson adds that the lack of further research into the issues could also call posters’ dedication into question.
“Did you take the time to read into that or are you just like ‘oh that looks cool’ and posting that to further your self image?” Pockell-Wilson said.
Although, most students are optimistic about the motivations of those who post Instagram news stories. According to a survey conducted by Blueprint, 71% of students agree that people who post about current events are genuinely concerned about the topics they share.
Environmental Science eacher Jada Paniagua consolidates these two points of view.
“It comes from a legitimate and real concern for things and wanting to spread ideas and be part of what they view as a positive change,” Paniagua said. “I also think we all use social media for personal branding… that’s a grey area. I don’t know if any of our brains can actually discern between the two.”
Although posters’ intentions appear murky, these hyper-connected students have harnessed a powerful means of communication to spread information critical to understanding the world.
“Everyone uses social media, so why not use platforms to help?” Busse said.