Social Media: A Blessing or a Curse?

You sit at your desk studying for a bio test. Your phone vibrates once, twice, and you lose your focus. You turn it on to check your notifications and you see that your friend from the UK has sent you a DM on Twitter. You log in, answer the message, then start scrolling absentmindedly through your feed. You notice a long thread under a political report, where an argument between two people has led to nasty personal attacks on both sides. You see a variety of content, everything from memes to social activism campaigns, from artsy photos to advertisements. 15 minutes later, you leave the app and go back to studying.

Does this sound familiar?

Social media use, something that often seems like such a trivial part of our daily routine, has a powerful influence on the world. However, it’s difficult to classify this effect as inherently good or bad.

the good

connection

Obviously, one of the major benefits of social media is its ability to connect people. Social media platforms were created for this purpose. It allows you to keep in touch or reconnect with old friends and relatives. Platforms like Snapchat, FaceTime, and Facebook, where you can speak to friends and family via video call, can be incredibly beneficial to relationships, especially long-distance ones. Social media also allows you to build relationships with people you may never actually meet in person. The prevalence of online-only relationships is a relatively new trend. While these kinds of friendships are generally discouraged by older adults, studies have proven that they have the same core qualities as face-to-face relationships, and can be just as meaningful.

activism

Social media can be very effective in raising awareness for important issues. As Angela said in her presentation, greater awareness of injustice is necessary for change. And even more important than raising awareness is mobilization – by reaching such a wide audience, social media makes it much easier to organize people to work together for a common cause, whether this be protests or natural disaster support efforts. Passionate ad hoc teams can be formed on a large scale and crucial information can easily and quickly be passed on. The Arab Spring popularized the use of social media for mobilization and the use of this tactic is continuously increasing. While activism campaigns on social media are often called “lazy” and “ineffective”, in many cases, this is far from the truth. The global Black Lives Matter movement began with a hashtag. The ALS Association raised over $100 million through the viral social media-based ice bucket challenge. These organizations, and so many others, have provided people with a voice and sparked real change.

the bad

cyberbullying + trolling

50% of American teens have been victims of cyberbullying, according to a survey conducted last March. As Nirosa and Chiromiya explained, these attacks, whether in the form of social exclusion or malicious rumours, cause the victim significant psychological, physical, and emotional stress that can lead to depression.

What makes cyberbullying and trolling so common is the “online disinhibition effect” – people do and say things online that they wouldn’t do or say in a face-to-face conversation. Sophie brought up several key factors contributing to this phenomenon. For one, one social media, users can hide or alter their identity, allowing them to separate their online actions online from their from their offline life. Known as dissociative anonymity, this allows people to avoid taking responsibility for their behaviour, as it cannot be linked back to them. This anonymity not only makes cyberbullying easy, but makes preventing it exponentially more difficult.

damage to communication skills

Communication quality is getting worse. Technology is often a big hindrance to interpersonal relationships – it’s a very poor substitute for talking to someone face-to-face. That’s because many important aspects of communication are missing from the apps we use. Instant messages can’t convey voice inflection, body language, or facial expressions. Relying solely on this emptier form of human communication can prevent us from developing true intimacy with other people.

Another important aspect of online communication is the fact that you have time to craft a response. Unlike during in-person conversations, you have a couple of minutes to think about how your words will affect the other person or what impression you want to make. Getting used to this time delay can make face-to-face communication seem intimidating and intense, and can make navigating job interviews and romantic relationships later in life much more difficult.

the verdict

Had social media been used solely as intended – as a platform to connect and share information with people all around the world – its impact on the world would have been overwhelmingly positive. Unfortunately, not only has it been abused for the purposes of cyberbullying and spreading misinformation, it has been overused to the point where it has begun to damage mental health, communication skills, and cognitive function. Despite efforts to mitigate these negative impacts, I believe they currently outweigh the benefits of social media.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s