The first time my journalism students tried talking about Donald Trump’s “grab her by the. ..” — well, you know — moment, the men in class could not get out the words — afraid to embarrass and offend their female classmates.
After a week or so, everyone in class had accepted the phrase as part of our new national lexicon and they discussed it freely (although it remains too indelicate to publish here).
With the daily crush of information and social media technology that connects and exposes us in new ways, it’s easy to forget how many groundbreaking moments happen all of the time. We crossed several significant thresholds in the way we communicate during 2016.
In some cases, words and moments that once seemed too offensive turned into the daily discussions. At other moments, technology broke new ground by revealing startling new ways of sharing information.
Here’s list of the tradition-shattering moments from the past year:
• As soon as a Minnesota police officer fatally shot Philando Castile during a July traffic stop, his girlfriend started broadcasting the moment on Facebook Live, showing the bloodstain spreading across his white T-shirt as he slumped back in the seat.
We can now watch people die and get seriously injured on screens all of the time. Body cameras this month caught footage of another incident, in Lavonia, Ga., when two police officers were shot while interviewing a suspect. You can hear the one officer worrying about bleeding out as he lies on the ground. Both men survived.
• Residents of Aleppo, Syria — along with activists and reporters living there — have taken to Periscope and Twitter to post images, videos and monologues about what it’s like to live in a war zone. The sudden burst of a nearby explosion feels jarringeven a half-world away.
Cynics have questioned the authenticity of a Twitter account by Bana al-Abed, a 7-year-old girl purportedly tweeting from Aleppo, but her story has brought intimate accounts of the fighting from inside the city.
• When a gunman entered Orlando’s Pulse nightclub in June, Amanda Alvear was sending video to a friend via Snapchat as gunfire erupted in the background. The moment of initial terror was captured and sent. She was killed in the incident. During a truck terror attack in Nice, France, weeks later, survivors documented the carnage on video cameras. Again, anyone in the world with a computer or smartphone could experience the fear and horror in almost real time.
• Far from scenes of terror, social media also entertained and informed in new ways. The Pokemon Go phenomenon briefly gripped the public’s attention as it showed millions of users how augmented reality can allow technology to seamlessly overlay reality.
• YouTube continues to gain more traction as a top entertainment choice for millions of mostly young people. As The Washington Post said about popular vlogger Casey Neistat — you either know everything or nothing about the man. Either way, know this: He built a following of 5.7 million viewers before pulling the plug on his videos this month — and then entered into a new $25 million venture with CNN.
• Then there was the presidential election. The hashtag #Election2016 ranked second overall among the world’s most popular trending topics on Twitter this year. (It followed behind the Olympics, which really is a global event.)
What made the election so groundbreaking was not always what the candidates said — but the reality that both Trump and Hillary Clinton used social media extensively to reach voters.
The Clinton campaign had the most popular political tweet with a line from her concession speech: “To all the little girls watching…never doubt that you are valuable and powerful & deserving of every chance & opportunity in the world.”
But Trump had the last word with his simple Election Day declaration: “Today we make America great again!”
Andrew Conte is the director of the Center for Media Innovation at Point Park University. His column appears monthly.