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The things students choose to pay attention to can alter their perceptions and potentially change the way they live their lives. Because they are constantly bombarded with information, especially on the Internet, it can be difficult to define what’s important and avoid what isn’t. If they have any desire to contribute to public discourse in a meaningful way, students must not only learn to recognize important topics, but also prioritize them over the mass of shallow, often trifling news events that plague many American media outlets. It is easier than ever to fall into the trap of celebrity gossip. Students no longer have to pick up a copy of “Life & Style” or turn on “Entertainment Tonight” to immerse themselves in the gilded glamour of celebrity life. An array of social media outlets as well as websites like TMZ are instantly accessible through students’ cellphones and computers, increasing the temptation to read about sensationalized relationships and overblown scandals. In addition, over the past decade, television has become saturated with reality TV shows that showcase aggressive, melodramatic and typically petty behavior. “I find myself clicking on links that pertain to some celebrity’s life, which really shouldn’t matter or affect me at all,” sophomore Erika Pethan said. “I’m not really sure why I do it. I think I feel a connection to them after listening to their music and slowly just get sucked into their glamorous life.” While sometimes entertaining, it is important not to indulge in these guilty pleasures to the point of distraction. Students who get sucked into the microcosm of Hollywood happenings could easily find themselves with a warped perspective of cultural and behavioral expectations. Fabricated conflicts between Real Housewives or the Kardashian clan have little substance and can potentially influence viewers even if they don’t realize it. A study led by psychologist Bryan Gibson from the University of Central Michigan gives insight on the effects reality TV can have on those who watch certain kinds of reality shows. The study entitled “Just ‘Harmless Entertainment’? Effects of Surveillance Reality TV on Physical Aggression” found that programs like “Jersey Shore” and “Real Housewives” containing relational or verbal aggression can make people more combative in their real lives. “Given the popularity of reality TV programs, our results are discouraging,” Gibson said. “Some might claim that all surveillance reality programs, though derided by many, are nevertheless relatively harmless. However, our results show that these programs can be more than the guilty pleasure that many viewers claim them to be. Instead, they should be viewed as potential triggers for subsequent aggression.” Gibson also addresses the potential dangers of “experience taking,” a phenomenon in which readers and viewers adopt a character’s perspective or viewpoints as his or her own. “Viewers who engage in such experience taking while viewing reality dramas may be more likely to adopt the beliefs, traits, and actions of the characters they watch,” Gibson said. Aggressive, reactive behavior is counterproductive to maintaining balanced perspectives and will not serve students well in their relationships and interactions. Although they may have more exposure, celebrities aren’t the only contributors to manufactured nonsense. Various social media outlets give anyone with an internet connection a platform to express his or her opinion, no matter how baseless or exaggerated it may be. While a broad public discourse is largely beneficial, it does have consequences. Facebook and Twitter often become a stage for artificial outrage, starting squabbles about trivial subjects that would be better left unnoticed. Over the past few days, coffee giant Starbucks has been subject to barrage of unwarranted social media criticisms that have snowballed into a bogus controversy that only acts a distraction from important issues. Every year, Starbucks releases a holiday-themed cup design that some have come to interpret as an homage to the Christmas season. This year Starbucks took a new direction with the cups’ composition, replacing typical holiday symbols like snowflakes and reindeer, with a simple red gradient. Shortly after the announcement of the change, many on social media expressed their concern with the seemingly meaningless style decision. Self proclaimed public figure and social media personality Joshua Feuerstein voiced his take on his Facebook Page. “Starbucks REMOVED CHRISTMAS from their cups because they hate Jesus,” Feuerstein, wrote. Actor Rob Lowe also weighed in on the mock controversy on his Twitter page. “Between their program to have baristas lecture me about race and now their removal of “Merry Christmas” I’m officially over @Starbucks #done,” Lowe tweeted. Students would be wise to ignore the false outrage and unnecessary conflicts that arise from social media, but that’s not to say they should avoid these platforms all together. Social media outlets undoubtedly have merit in a fast paced, connected society. Websites like Twitter have become a channel that many journalistic organizations use to quickly spread breaking news, however it is up to users to identify reputable sources and sift through the noise. By educating themselves about topics that have real-world implications such as elections or foreign affairs, students’ opinions will carry more weight and they will be better equipped to participate in public discussion and civic duties. Instead of buying into manufactured arguments, students should pay attention to legitimate local and national news events. Though they can sometimes be harder to find and digest, real stories and conflicts provide interesting content that can better help students understand the world and develop informed opinions.