Let’s be honest: Social media is a jungle. There’s always someone out there ready to attack; you never know when it’s coming, or from whom. Even words typed with the best of intentions can end up distorted and crushed when you’re online.
Nevertheless, social media is also an incredibly exciting and dynamic environment, packed with information and a wide diversity of viewpoints — it is open, filled with the unexpected, challenging and, yes, useful. That’s why most of us are online.
It’s true that many have recently decided to quit (or flee?) Twitter, Facebook and Instagram because of all the senseless fighting and verbal violence. I respect this decision; this community of anonymous (and not so anonymous) people isn’t right for everybody.
Ultimately, the world doesn’t need to know what you had for breakfast this morning. Nor do we, as news consumers, need to read the opinions of someone we’ve never met (and who doesn’t even post a picture or use a real name) on the Syrian war or the crisis at the United States border with Mexico. That’s just digital torture.
Despite all this, I’m not going to stop using social media. Why? Because then I wouldn’t get to hear the voices of the opposition in Venezuela (@jguaido), Nicaragua (@cefeche) and Cuba (@yoanisanchez), all of which are censored in the official press; or the opinions of Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC), whose ideas are making the Washington establishment so uncomfortable.
Nor would I have access to the morning news conferences of Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (@lópezobrador_); or the videos posted by those who have witnessed terrorist attacks in places I can’t go myself; or the pictures of all the places I want to visit on my next vacation; or all the spot-on, witty corrections Paulina Chavira makes to our grammar (@apchavira); or the tantrums and lies of the most powerful man on earth (@realdonaldtrump); or the struggles, reported firsthand, facing “Dreamers” and immigrants; or the instructions of the local weather forecaster when a hurricane is approaching my home in Miami; or the opinions of the many people who don’t think like me and want me to know it. There are a million more reasons.
Social media’s unique ability to put me in touch with new people and new ideas is what makes me grab my phone each morning before I jump out of bed. I follow around 100 different people and media outlets, just another user with a couple of hours a day to spend in front of the screen.
Of course, I also use social media because it’s in my best interests professionally. I firmly believe that I wouldn’t have my job on television if I didn’t have a presence on social media. Many people are moving from big screens to small ones. So, unless I want to be a dinosaur at risk of extinction, with only a TV news show that broadcasts at a certain time, I have to create a following online, where there are no schedules.
That’s in part why, a year ago, I launched “Real America,” an online English-language news program that airs on Facebook Watch. Through the show, I meet many young people who don’t even own a TV.
Being active on social media has also kept me safe. I was freed in Venezuela, where I was briefly held with my Univision crew this past February following a fateful interview with President Nicolás Maduro, in part because of the storm of tweets the incident generated.
Sure, we could live without social media. But, as a journalist, I choose to stay online — even with the risks involved.
I know, for example, that strangers may be spying on my online activities. I agree that we urgently need new laws to ensure that companies respect our privacy, refrain from sharing our personal information and stop providing a platform for hate groups.
But even without these laws, we aren’t defenseless as we make our way through the digital jungle. Blocking people is one of the great small pleasures of online life. I regularly block people who bad-mouth others or turn to personal attacks. I also block bots — faceless trolls with no followers.
I’m on social media because it’s an extraordinary communication tool, providing a unique space for me to test out my ideas and arguments. Why would I refuse to use one of the most important inventions of our time?
The bottom line is that we’re free to use social media in whatever way works for us. And with only one click, we can leave.