COLUMN: Not Clickbait: Saving the world can happen online

Technology has become a game of risks and rewards, but people tend to forget about how vast the rewards actually are.

Abigail Ruhman is a sophomore journalism major at MU. She is an opinion columnist who writes about student life, politics and social issues for The Maneater.

Similar to almost every tool created by humanity, technology isn’t inherently evil. Despite the numerous benefits new technology holds, most discussions tend to focus on how technology went wrong. Important advances in technology are encouraged but are often criticized.

Technology has the opportunity to revolutionize the world, as society has already seen. From communication and education to accessibility and affordability, innovation invests in the idea of the peaceful tomorrow, at least in an optimistic view. However, that link to positive peace is often ignored, but it shouldn’t be.

The societal image of peace tends to focus on the absence of direct violence in relation to military or public action. Depending on how narrowly someone looks at the world and the definition of violence, it would be easy to assume that the world is at peace most of the time. The goal of positive peace is to look at all forms of violence. Even when direct violence isn’t present, cultural and structural violence is typically still present. Structural violence is the use of a system to harm a minority group. For example, racial profiling heavily impacts how racial minorities live their lives. Cultural violence tends to come from structural violence. The result of racial profiling is that people tend to see racial minorities as dangerous criminals.

Technology offers a powerful tool to work towards actual and productive change. Up until individuals had the power to share their experiences, information was heavily impacted by who was telling the story. Before phones came with easy-to-access cameras to record videos, instances of police brutality tended to remain quiet or inaccurate. As the feature became more standard for phones, the way that these stories could be told changed. The development of technology meant more ways for people to show their side of the story. In 2016, Philando Castile’s significant other shared their fatal interaction with the police using Facebook Live. She testified in court and explained, "Because I know that the people are not protected by police, I wanted to make sure if I was to die in front of my daughter, someone would know the truth,” according to NBC.

Technology has made sure that it is no longer a cop’s word against a citizen’s word. Conversations about police brutality had something that people couldn’t just brush away — they had proof. Proof that could be easily shared over social media. Proof that could easily be confirmed. Proof that supported what victims had been saying for years. Proof that showed the world that they were dying because racial profiling can have a fatal outcome.

In addition to domestic issues seeing the light of day, technology brings context to global issues. Without modern technology, the image of the Hong Kong protests would most likely only come from the state. Propaganda isn’t uncommon in issues such as this one. To combat state messages, protesters streamed their experience on Twitch and used encrypted messages to exchange important information about the protests without the information being intercepted. Documentation is vital to achieving positive peace. It holds people accountable and humanizes issues that feel too far away.

Technology also works to close gaps where protesting hasn’t worked. While there are huge social issues that require documentation and communication, some require technology to assist with a problem. XO Laptops work to provide durable and affordable computers to poor communities to close the gap in education. Flo, a reusable kit to assist menstruation, helps children who miss school due to their periods. LifeStraw, a simple straw-like filter, helps people gain access to clean water. Technology is helping those in need to get closer to equality.

Advances in technology also help people with disabilities gain more independence. From braille smartphones to eye-tracking technology that helps people communicate, technology helps people with disabilities get the physical support they need. In addition, advocacy is also aided by technology and social media. Being able to share an experience or important information over the internet has increased the overall perception of disabilities.

One of the best ways to understand the impact that technology can have is to look at a typical college campus. Between social advancements made online and technology created to help, college campuses are becoming more accessible. For students with disabilities and for students from other countries, the expectation is that colleges actually work to support students. This is still a battle people are fighting today. Students are asking for more from their universities, and fighting back when institutions fail to work with them.

There is still a long way to go with each one of these problems, but technology is making a huge difference. While there are dangers with misusing technology, that doesn’t mean that society should treat each advancement as a prologue to the next season of Black Mirror. Technology is saving lives and helping people find justice. It’s helping people find or fight for equality. It’s reminding people that domestic problems aren’t the only problems. In order to increase the possibility of positive peace, technology has to be utilized and respected.

Edited by Bryce Kolk | bkolk@themaneater.com

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