By Kathleen Zapata '24
With the popularity of social media platforms like TikTok, Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter, it is easier than ever for information to flow all around, especially from ordinary users.
On November 5, a concert turned to tragedy at the Astroworld festival in Houston as a result of an uncontrolled crowd surge. Videos from the festival-goers rapidly circulated on TikTok, and soon on other social media platforms as well. Many of the distressing footage showed a first-hand experience of what it was like within the dangerous crowd. Numerous videos showed Travis Scott inciting chaos in the audience by encouraging fans to ignore security and rush to the stage as attendees grappled from being dragged under, while others were crushed against the steel barricades. A few videos showed the desperate attempts from medics as they performed CPR on those who suffered from cardiac arrests, all while Scott continued to perform and attendees begged his camera crew to stop the show.
These three-minute videos are instrumental in holding the accountable parties responsible for their actions as video evidence can not only be used in court, but in public opinion as well. Here, users of the app were plunged into the horrors of the occasion first-hand and outrage quickly ensued regarding Scott’s carelessness and negligence during the whole ordeal, and about how poorly planned the event was. This is much different from interviews where witnesses would convey their account of the scene after the fact; this was on the-ground citizen reporting.
This all raises bigger questions about the way social media presents information to us. Now more than ever, many people, especially young adults, get their news from the Internet--I certainly do. As someone who is on TikTok 24/7, going from watching innocent videos about some random recipes and makeup tutorials to hearing despairing screams for help as people got trampled to death is quite disturbing, to say the least.
As users simultaneously liked, commented, downloaded, and shared these videos, pushing them to everyone’s “For You” pages, the content was already viral long before any major news organizations could report the news--or before TikTok could flag the videos as sensitive. This reflects unique circumstances: one is that there is no way for users to fact-check the credibility of the information swirling around the footage, or in the comment sections of these videos, if no major news outlets have confirmed the facts. The other is that this content can be trauma-inducing to younger users, or users of the platforms in general.
There is no doubt that social media has encouraged younger generations to be more engaged in important topics and has helped amplify current events happening around us. We, as young adults, must continue to use the capabilities that social media gives us to call attention to meaningful topics and document critical moments. As we draw new borders of news reporting with social media, it is important for both platforms and users to establish ways to identify misinformation, and to combat the increasing number of unfiltered, sensitive video footage shared by ordinary individuals from landing on users’ home pages. As social media platforms work on these problems, as consumers we should be wary of the media we actively ingest and are exposed to in our daily lives. Citizen journalism is not going away anytime soon, and it will continue to be a critical part of journalism as we know it today.