Lia Solomon Blog Post (due 1.15.18)

When I was younger, I volunteered at elderly living facilities. This was an incredible experience because the residents often expressed gratitude at me being there, so I came to learn that I could make an impact on other people’s lives.

My senior year of high school I became passionate about fighting injustices, focusing on racial disparities and police brutality. I went on a few marches and protests, but I realized the organization I was part of had flaws. I thought protestors’ use of derogatory language about police, even if warranted, could in no way aid or create momentum for change. Additionally, the marches felt like the goal was the march itself, when I felt that the marches should have been steps toward progress, meant to draw attention to issues and invigorate current and attract new members. Freshman year at Pitt I joined a social action committee where we discuss a variety of issues. The problem, however, is the complete other side of the spectrum; we do a lot of talk and little action.

Around the same time I joined social action committee, I also joined an organization called Pitt Prison Outreach which works to raise awareness and educate students about issues of mass incarceration and the unjust criminal justice system. The organization also volunteers sending books to prisoners and fundraises for organizations that aim to create better quality of life for those whose lives have been affected by mass incarceration. I found a lot of satisfaction in learning about these issues and in volunteering.

In both the fall and spring of my freshman year I also volunteered at different homeless shelters. It was rewarding because I got to know a lot of interesting people. When you look at a societal injustice, you often envision a group of people struggling with a problem. You tend to forget or ignore the individual. To meet people who struggle, means you put a name, a face, a story to the cause. You remind yourself that you’re fighting for people, as opposed to just fighting against an issue.

Since I started learning about different societal ills I have found that many link together. Race and class disparities; poverty; environmental, education, and food injustice; and mass incarceration all have ties, and some can become a vicious cycle. And I don’t know how you solve this.

I know that there are problems. I know students of color are more likely to be suspended or expelled, often for subjective offenses. I know that suspension and expulsion make it hugely unlikely that students don’t graduate high school or go to college. I know that not graduating high school extremely raises the likelihood of incarceration. I know that students can’t study when they don’t have clean clothes to wear or food in their stomachs. I know the recidivism rate is around 75% and that re-entry is almost impossible. I know that those trying to re-enter struggle to find jobs and housing, and often don’t have people to help them on the outside.

Society makes a lot of effort to try to hide what they see as unfit. People complain when they have to walk past those dealing with homelessness on the streets. But instead of wanting to help people obtain a better life, many people just want to be able to walk down the streets and not have to see the homeless population. People want prisons but don’t want to see the ugliness and abusive nature of prisons or to have those who have served time living in their communities. People don’t want to see hungry children, but they also don’t want to spend their money to feed them.

I don’t know how you make life affordable for the poorest people in a capitalist system. I don’t know how you convince society that those who get out of prison have paid their debt to society and are supposed to be able to rehabilitate and re-enter. I don’t know how to convince people that barely have enough to send their kids to college in a day where higher education is almost required for a good life, that they should pay more in taxes to take care of those less well-off than they are, or how you convince the wealthiest to use their wealth for the betterment of others. I don’t know how you get people to acknowledge racism and racial disparities. I don’t have any answers, but, hopefully caring is a good place to start.



Uniting a Nation

When brainstorming ideas trying to come up with something I’m actually passionate enough about that I may want to spent an entire semester writing on, my mind was continually taken to one specific place. In our society it has become common to turn on the news or open the newspaper and immediately hear of some horrible hate crime, mass killing, or act of terrorism. It would be more uncommon to go months or even weeks without one of these tragic events occurring. We as a nation, seem so divided.


Political parties have divided the people of our country since 1796 when the first election in the history of our country was held where candidates ran for office as members of specific, organized political parties. Of course, these parties held very different and seemingly opposite political principles. Specifically, this past election seemed to be more controversial than ever and certainly one that divided many people in our nation. According to an article posted by the Washington Post, more than four in ten democrats and republicans say the other party’s policies are so misguided that they pose an actual threat to the nation (


Being a college student at a large university, unfortunately, I see this division of people first hand. Immediately following Trump’s election into office I watched hundreds of college kids storm the streets of Oakland protesting until three or four in the morning. The day following the election I witnessed an informal Trump rally form outside of Sennott Square that included students handing out flyers listing ways Trump can help our country. The students around me seemed to instantly become more divided than I had ever seen. Speaking out about your political opinion today, especially at a large university has certainly become a quite scary thing to do.


Aside from politics, there have been over three hundred and twenty mass shootings (the F.B.I. defines a “mass” shooting as the killing of three or more people) in the US in 2017 ( Horrible acts of extreme hate such as the Las Vegas shooting and the bombing at the Ariana Grande concert are all too common in today’s media.


Additionally, racism in our country seems to be at an all-time high. The incidents that occurred this past year in Charlottesville Virginia remind us that racism seems to be alive and in our society. Hundreds of people chanting anti-black, anti-LGBT, anti-Jewish, and anti-Muslim chants in Charlottesville became the largest public demonstration of its kind in generations. Hate crimes seemingly motivated by dislike of a specific religion are also all too common nowadays.


George W. Bush said it best when he said, “At times, it seems like the forces pulling us apart are stronger than the forces binding us together.” How then, can we unite as a country and get along? A tough question to answer of course, but one that certainly deserves a lot of attention in today’s society. When will the violence and hate stop? When will we stand together as one group of people with the best interest of others in mind?

Potential Writing Interests

As I reflected upon potential topics to write about, I thought about issues that are on the minds of people in my hometown of Johnstown, Pennsylvania. Over the past few years back home, the opioid crisis has been growing at an alarming rate much like other parts of the country. This is an issue that really hits home for me as two people from my high school graduating class have overdosed and passed away within the past two and a half years. Measures like informing younger generations about the dangers of drugs and a bill passed by Congress dedicating funding to treatment centers has already been done with little to no effect while the issue at hand continues to grow. Upon looking into the subject area closer, I came across articles where experts in the area agree that both the current addicts as well as potential addicts in the future need to be accounted for in order to combat the problem. Attempting to fix one without the other will only partially fix the problem and the results will not last. Everyone seems to know someone affected by substance abuse and a solution needs to be pursued.

Another issue I have particular interest in is the question of whether or not college athletes should be paid. This is a very relevant topic as we are a class of college students and some of us routinely have classes with athletes. I personally think that they should not be paid because they are students first and foremost (although some act as if it is the other way around). However, I do understand the players’ standpoint that university’s should not be profiting millions of dollars from the work of its students. There are several ideas floating around about how to come to a solution for this issue. One proposed solution I have found to be the fairest, in my opinion, is that the money the student-athletes earn (however much it may be) goes into a savings account that they only get access to once they have graduated. This way they are getting paid as well as receiving incentive to finish their schooling.

The third topic that it relevant to the public and to myself personally is the crumbling infrastructure in the United States. Currently, I am in my second co-op rotation at FedEx Ground and the importance of quality roads and bridges to the company is crucial. In 2017, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the United States overall infrastructure a D+ which, in my opinion, is unacceptable for our country. Everyone who lives or works in around the Pittsburgh region knows how poor the road conditions are in this area. In fact, some people deem there only being two seasons in our neck of the woods: winter and construction. The ironic part is that Pennsylvanians’ pay the highest gasoline tax in the country and this tax is mainly supposed to go towards road maintenance and improvement. Clearly what is being done is not working and changes need to be made.

Although all of these topics are relevant and important, the declining infrastructure of the United States is the most relevant and impactful to me. There is a clear problem and it is a problem that people can get behind and be a part of the push for change.

Personal Responsibility

I’m not sure exactly why, but I don’t usually put a lot of thought into what I could do to improve the world as a whole.  There are so many people that want to change the world in amazing ways.  There are people that won’t quit until they leave their mark on society.  I, on the other hand, tend to focus on myself and what I need to do every day to be successful.  I don’t see myself as a dreamer, but more of a doer.  I have always believed that if I do what I am supposed to do, and if I put my best effort into everything I do, I will eventually end up where I want to be in life.  I am by no means trying to put down these other people.  I wish I had a noble cause that I felt so strongly about.  But until I do, I am going to try to be the best person I can be every single day, and improve myself as a person constantly.

I have always been raised to believe that you get out of something what you put into it.  Along with this, I have been taught to be accountable for my actions.  These two ideas have got me far in life.  However, I see many people on a personal level that do not live by these “rules”.  I have close family and friends that are in very bad situations for a variety of reasons.  For the most part, their unfortunate circumstances are a result of their own doing.

I think many people today are brought up believing that whatever bad things happen to them are someone else’s fault.  Many people convince themselves that if they are not successful, it is because the “system” is against them or because of some circumstances out of their control.  Although this may be true in some cases, the vast majority of these people have given up on the idea that they could have an internal “locus of control”.  People with an external locus of control tend to look at themselves as victims of society and choose to stop putting forth an effort.  Once people stop trying, it is almost impossible to be successful.

If I could influence society in one way, I would encourage people to be more responsible for themselves and their actions.  I do not believe that a healthy individual should ever be taught to be reliant on anyone else for anything.  I know far too many people who suffer because they rely on their parents, a spouse or significant other, or the government to get by.  These people will never be able to contribute positively to the world if they do nothing but sit and wait to be taken care of.  I would encourage people to take command of their own lives and to become reliant on only themselves.  If everyone acted in this way, our entire society would be more efficient and prosperous.  In the meantime, I will continue to work as hard as I can to be in control of my own future, and hopefully if I ever come up with a plan that can change the world in a positive way, I will be in a position to execute it.


Hmmmm, what to write about?

As a pre-med student and hopeful future doctor, I would say a lot of the topics and potentially controversial isses that interest me are related to medicine and science. Two of the first topics that come to mind are public science education (especially relating to the safety and importance of vaccines) and the american approach to care for the elderly, I think both of these are tremendously important and  high stakes topics of discussion. The topic of the anti-vacc movement in particular is an issue which is caused by a lack of effective public communication.

However, the anti-vacc movement, like (dare say it) the discussion on global warming, is (or at least should be) uncontroversial. Many other topics which interest me, such as the prospect of legalizing prostitution, the debate on abortion, and dialogue regarding gun control, have a very clear and legitimate two sides. While I certainly agree with and align myself with one side, I must recognize the validity of the opposing view. This is not the case with the anti-vaccine movement. While there are two sides to this argument in the public sphere, most people who choose to not vaccinate their children are basing their decision on false information and therefore are unarguably in the wrong.

The question then arises does valid controversy make a topic more interesting or simply more difficult to present? Another rather non controversial, but still important comes to mind: the ivory trade. I would hope that no one would argue with me that killing elephants to the point of near extinction for the harvest of their ivory is a GOOD choice. Yet the trade and illegal poaching continues because the sale of ivory is legal in countries such as China. Fortunately, China recently banned the ivory trade completely which is the first of many steps toward reviving elephant populations throughout Africa. This sudden change in China’s tune was inspired by heavy international pressures which were fueled by public knowledge and passion for the cause. Thus this rather non-controversial topic proves to be nonetheless high stakes and very relevant to communication with the public.

The same is true of Voluntourism. For those who don’t know, this word refers to the global trend of  international volunteering and its portrayal throughout western social media which tends to convey racism and western-centric development ideals. This issue is one that also is less controversial and more propagated by lack of knowledge and education. I would assume that most people who participate in this sort of act truly do intend to help but aren’t realizing the negative consequences that they are creating. The same is true of flawed NGO’s and international development organizations and those who contribute to them.

I would say that less controversial topics (like those I mentioned above) are equally as interesting as highly controversial topics because they still have an aspect to them that keeps them in the public eye, allowing them to retain their relevance. The anti-vaccine movement keeps coming to my mind because of its high stakes nature and surprisingly extensive following. I am interested to see if I may come across any valid arguments FOR the anti vaccine movement but I would suspect that most arguments for this movement are based on pseudo science such as the publication which linked vaccinations to autism.  This misinformation and lack of understanding of how vaccines word  lead to the emotionally charged movements against vaccines. A campaign to correct these misunderstandings could be useful for public science education.


Surveillance is privacy. Algorisms know best. Facebook is Friend.

Surveillance is privacy. Algorisms know best. Facebook is Friend.

It’s hard to tell which dystopian novel we’ve wondered into recently.  We’re somewhere between Orwell’s 1984 (Big Brother could be the NSA or Facebook or Google?), Atwood’s A Handmaid’s Tale (so long reproductive rights!), a dash of Veronica Roth’s Divergent (Factions divided sounds like a familiar narrative), and hopefully not quite at Hunger Games levels.

Storytelling is as historically old as hominins. Constructing our own narratives is a biological drive according to Darwin’s theory of sexual selection (as opposed to his idea of natural selection). Facebook gives us a prefect platform to shout our stories from the proverbial mountaintop. “Here I am! Pay attention to me! What I’m saying is unique and important!” Then we sit back and count the likes, the loves, the smiley faces, the validation that someone cares.

Facebook is designed with this need in mind. Every week a new update comes out that knows us better, is able to predict what we want, shows us certain friends and not others, and caters ads to us specifically. This is what “algorithmic gatekeeping” means. Facebook is the lens in which we view our social media lives, we are subject to Facebook bias, and we are blind to Facebook’s control. We may be the head, but Facebook is the neck.

The author explained the concept of gatekeeping in the following excerpt: “In this analogy, your phone would algorithmically manipulate who you heard from, which sentences you heard, and in what order you heard them—keeping you on the phone longer, and thus successfully serving you more ads”. Facebook’s algorithms show you what they want you to see for whatever purpose they want to and you have no way of knowing the degree of this manipulation.

The internet is the last frontier, the modern Wild, Wild West. Laws, ethics, and oversight are playing catchup to the climate of social media. Events like “gamergate” in which “trolls” threatened self-identified female gamers, incidents of revenge porn and general bullying, hate speech and culturally insensitive remarks have received public backlash with critics calling for social media companies to better monitor the content that users share. The question remains, to what degree should a social media company censor content or users? Public backlash has lead to debates about how much social media and the consequences of a person’s actions on those sites should bleed over into a person’s “real life”. Social media lifts up idols to watch them crash. Last election, Ken Bone, a bespeckled man in red sweater has hailed a hero, only to have his internet history dug up and the public tide to turn on discovery that he was not as innocent as his visage alluded.

Facebook seems to be following the “don’t ask for permission, ask for forgiveness later” mantra. According to the article, Facebook revealed after the 2010 U.S. election that it ‘promoted’ voting by ‘nudging’ people to vote by suggesting that their friends had also voted. Encouraging civic engagement is fairly innocuous. Hiding events like the Ferguson protests could be harmful and suggests that Facebook algorithms suffer from the same racial bias as its creators.

For any group creating campaign pieces for social justice issues, especially if those issues are intersectional with structural racism and classism, it will be important to remember the example of Ferguson. Facebook’s algorithm will likely filter out your content. At this time, it is hard to determine how many people will see your content. Put a cheery spin on a social justice issue and you might just sneak past the algorithm.

Until Facebook is held to some measure of accountability and transparency by an oversight organization (possiblly the FCC), we will be ruled by the almighty algorithm.

There is still hope. The algorithm isn’t perfect. An artist’s rendition of a robin on a Christmas card was recently flagged as “indecent”. The controversy has now given her more coverage than her post would have originally received. You can decide for yourself here:

For additional information on our evolutionary history with storytelling, go here:

For more information on how social media and smartphones are turning you into a validation zombie:

For more information about racial bias in algorithms: