Baroness alumna Joanna Shields spoke to students Monday night in Heritage Hall on how technology and social media is challenging sociopolitical systems and security. Along with her presentation to students Monday, Shields will participate in a College of Liberal Arts event called Penn State Women: Leaders of Today and Tomorrow during her visit to campus.
After graduating from Penn State in 1984 with a degree in public service, Shields went on to receive an MBA from George Washington University and work in Silicon Valley at a number of companies including Google and Facebook, where she was the Vice President and Managing Director for Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. After working at Facebook alongside Mark Zuckerberg and U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron on fighting the use of the internet in the abuse and exploitation of children, she became the first U.K. ambassador for digital industries.
Shields’ talk, entitled “As technology shifts the human condition, what are the realities of the lives lived behind screens?” focused on how the acceleration of technology has drastically impacted social norms around the world. “I love change, chasing the next new thing,” Shields said, noting the feeling can also be a bit uneasy.
As a result of social media, Shields said more people are feeling anxious and left behind; the only solution so far is to simply take a break from it. Social media in her eyes has created an echo chamber where extreme views are endorsed and have propagated a stigma that you can’t trust anyone. Shields referenced how Russia Kremlin-funded news organization Russia Today (RT) is the most widely viewed news outlet on YouTube. In 2014, RT came under fire for whitewashing Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine as simply protecting Russians, leading RT America anchor Liz Wahl to resign on live TV.
Shields also used several examples to demonstrate how social media can have drastic effects. She highlighted how social media led to the 2010 Arab Spring, a power vacuum in the region, and how social media can create an “us versus them” mentality with regards to how migrants are treated, allowing intolerance and ignorance to creep in. Shields discussed how ISIS launched their “digital insurgency” by using social media combined with Hollywood-level video production to recruit the next generation of followers and to launch attacks.
Shields even founded WeProtect.org, a global alliance to end child abuse online. “We will not stop before every child can use the internet without fear,” Shields said. She believes no child should be subject to cyberbullying or commit suicide because of it.
Despite the illusion of “connectedness” that social media creates, Shields questioned whether social media is compromising real world listening skills or how people find friends. She joked people on Twitter are more critical, people on Instagram are happier, and people on LinkedIn seem more employable.
Shields ended her talk on a lighter note, highlighting instances when people came together to incite change and made a difference in the world. Many countries partnered to lend resources to eradicate Ebola, and 174 countries signed onto the historic COP21 climate change agreement to limit global warming in 2015.
“We have the power to change the future,” Shields said in conclusion.