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Social Media Is Changing Our Perception Of War

The internet has put war on our virtual doorstep, which has real-world consequences

8Sep

Vietnam was the first time that the media had considerable access to a war zone. It meant that where previous wars would be shown to people through poems, paintings and a minimal amount of photos, Vietnam had some of the most compelling and heart wrenching imagery, because more of it was being seen and communicated to the general population.

The number of war correspondents since then may have increased significantly, but today the most compelling and devastating images do not necessarily come from the lens of a professional photographer, but instead from mobile phones, taken by everyday people.

Having the ability to not only capture these images, but then to spread them throughout the world has meant that the images are sent directly to the people who are likely to react to them and create a bigger impact than they would do by simply being included in a newspaper or magazine. It also means that the images will be in peoples consciousness for longer as newspapers and magazines are quickly discarded as soon as the next issues are printed. On the internet the images are likely to be available forever.

Social media and the use of networks to spread images and ideas around the ways that conflicts are being fought also means that people can become more informed about what armies are fighting for and the realities of being on the ground in these areas. It has had both positive and negative impacts though.

For instance it would be hard to argue that without the huge public outcry over the refugee crisis in Europe that has seen hundreds of online petitions being created and shared through social media, that European governments would have accepted so many asylum seekers. One of the most powerful images with Laith Majid crying whilst holding his children after he had just stepped off a boat from Syria, was spread predominantly online and has unified the response from European governments.

However, the use of social media and spreading content has also seen ISIS recruiting young and impressionable people to join them. This has led to thousands of people heading to Iraq and Syria. Despite the unquestionable barbarism of the group, their approach to social media (some reports have claimed that they have hundreds of people using social networks purely for recruitment) has meant that the number of recruits is still rising.

It has also meant that the horrors of war have become closer to our doorstep than the millennial generation have ever seen it. The baby boomers of the west were the first generation to not have directly experienced war, but saw an increased coverage it through the media. The millennials will hopefully never experience war first hand, but the truth is that they can see closer and understand the realities of it in a way that isolated and edited pictures would never allow them to in the past.

Although it will never have the same emotional impact as having experienced war firsthand, it creates an understanding that allows for empathy to be spread for victims. It is one of the key reasons why the rhetoric around immigrants in the EU has quickly shifted in the face of the images and accounts being spread through digital means. 

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