September 28, 2016

Mind Over Media: Retweeting with Leonardo DeCaprio

It is the third day of March, and as I write this piece on Monday morning I am brooding. The Oscars were on last night, and yet again Leonardo DiCaprio did not win the coveted title of Best Actor.

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Leading up to the Academy Awards season, many web-users have made memes depicting the celebrity lamenting his position. One viral photo was an image of DiCaprio crying.  The image itself is a collage made out of photos of past Oscar winners.

As I sip my morning coffee, I’m scrolling through my Facebook News Feed (a title I find problematic, but we’ll get to that). A friend shares a photo. It’s a screen capture from what seems to be Leonardo DiCaprio’s personal Twitter account. His tweet reads, “F*** the Oscars. F*** you. F*** Your Mom. I’m the best f***ing actor in the business. F*** all of you.”

My friend’s post gains three ‘likes.’ One of her friends comments, “God bless Leo.”

Last week at Webster we had a screening for a film called “Eyes Wide Open: This Is Media.”  The film aims to “open your eyes” to how you process the information you receive through the media. It explores the evolving concept of online privacy, but it also challenges the viewer to question the role of online sources. How do we know what’s credible? How do we learn to detect bias in stories we read?

According to the documentary, more than one third of Internet users frequently share information or news without checking the source.

The documentary also states that on a daily basis there is an average of 400 million tweets, 45 million Instagram posts, four billion videos uploaded to YouTube and a whopping 200 billion emails exchanged. We are all now producing media on a daily basis.  However, a poll in the docume ntary “Eyes Wide Open: This Is Media” tells us that 80 percent of people do not know what to trust online.

When we share information online without checking sources, we fail to consider how our posts influence other people. Just as I trust the New York Times to give me accurate and honest information, a friend of mine on Facebook might trust me to always share accurate links.  It’s like when you share an article from the satirical website The Onion

, and your aunt Jane ends up believing that the CIA actually uses black markers on important documents. Yikes.

Returning my attention back to Leonardo DiCaprio’s tweet on my News Feed…wait, that’s not a media-literate way of saying that.  I’ll try again.

Let’s return to the image of a Leonardo DiCaprio tweet on my News Feed. It has the big blue verification check that Twitter uses to indicate an account does in fact belong to a celebrity, but that could be manipulated in Photoshop. The image tells me that 4,839,843 Twitter users retweeted it, and 84,394,394 favorited it. Those numbers don’t seem ridiculously high.  When I visit DiCaprio’s Twitter page, it shows that he last tweeted on Feb. 20, 2014.

It’s clear that my friend’s share was a fake tweet someone made to get a laugh. The “God bless Leo” comment is ambiguous as to whether or not the commenter was aware that the tweet was a joke.

Either way, it might add a false sense of legitimacy to the Facebook News Feed surfers who see the post.

The ‘Poor Leo’ Internet memes and jokes seem insidious. They suggest that Leonardo DiCaprio associates a successful career with an Oscar award. When in fact, this is more of a conception of the public as the awards are used for marketing.

I cannot speak for Leonardo DiCaprio, but he probably sees the Academy Awards as most actors do: a political event.  Who gets an Oscar and when is decided by a small and secret group of people, many of whom have received Oscars in the past.

Meryl Streep received an Oscar for “Sophie’s Choice” in 1982, but then saw 12 years of nominations with no award. Martin Scorsese, director of “Wolf of Wall Street,” is considered one of the best directors of all time. Although nominated eight times he has only seen one Oscar in his career, which he won for “The Departed.”

This really puts Leonardo DiCaprio’s four nominations into perspective, as well as the power the media has to change our own perception. No one likes being lied to or manipulated by the media. This is why it is important that we learn to think critically of what we see and fact check before we share.

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