Social media negativity spikes in wake of MU protests

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COLUMBIA - Unrest at the University of Missouri has led to social media posts that are overtly threatening and, sometimes, blatantly racist. Some posts have specifically suggested deadly violence aimed at both white people and black people.

A threat posted to the social media site Yik Yak said, "I'm going to stand my ground tomorrow and shoot every black person I see," while one Twitter user posted, "#Mizzou black students need to stop protesting and start killing."

Dr. Gerry Heisler, a psychologist, said the use of social media needs regulation.

"Look at the social media at Mizzou," Heisler said. "It has affected the school. If you're going to post something you need to be careful about what you post."

KOMU 8 News' Interactive Director Annie Hammock said social media offers a false perception that users are anonymous. 

"There is some distance that is created when you are on one side of a computer screen and the people you are talking to are tens of miles or hundreds of miles or even thousands of miles away," Hammock said. "It provides a false sense of anonymity."

Hammock said people feel brazen when they use social media, admitting feelings they might not share with someone face to face. She said this results in an echo chamber.

"People hear something and they repeat it, and then other people hear it and repeat it," Hammock said. "People are listening only to messages they want to hear and then repeating those messages."

Heisler said this is because social media provides a forum that is fairly new.

"Yik Yak is anonymous and it provides a dissemination of information that was not previously available to people," Heisler said. "It's available and everyone has their platform."

Heisler said the use of social media has gotten so serious that people totally immerse themselves in it.

"Social media even affects people's life goals," Heisler said.

Hammock said social media is at its best is when it's being used as a platform for conversation.

"Real dialogue instead of talking at someone," Hammock said. "A lot of what you're seeing now is one person talking at another, or even talking at a group of others. Someone who is not like them."

Hammock said social media should be used for dialogue.

"I think what's important to realize is that if you see something on social media that you disagree with and you don't think you could ever resolve those disagreements with the person who has posted that, it's really important not to spend a lot of negative energy engaging with people in a way that's not really a dialogue," Hammock said.