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Social Media : Friend or Foe?

LOG OFF guest writer, Vanessa Chiam, juxtaposes two prominent positions in the dialogue surrounding social media, making sense of what it means to be a social media user.

The sheer ubiquity of social media in our lives cannot be doubted. Today, it is not difficult at all to find someone who is on their phones, scrolling through the likes of Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat.

What is now taken for granted was once considered a miracle. The birth of the Internet was something that would change the course of history and the trajectory of so many individuals’ lives. Ask anyone these days, and chances are those little rectangular glowing boxes have become an inseparable part of our daily lives. I’ll admit myself that a little glowing rectangular box is part of my own life too, but recently, I’ve been thinking a lot more about the technology we use and consume, and how it affects our everyday life.

How the times have changed, how the tables have turned. But just how much are we gaining?

Or, rather, how much are we losing?

Argument #1: Social media is more useful than harmful

“Social media is the ultimate equaliser. It gives a voice and a platform to anyone willing to engage.” - Amy Jo Martin

1. Social media has made connection easier

Some may argue that social media is a new age of connection, a neo-communicating form. And it’s not difficult to substantiate that either, since long gone are the days where you have to walk to someone’s door to deliver a message, or even have to pick up the phone. It’s as simple as typing a few letters on screen and clicking the ‘Send’ button. Anywhere in the world, your receiver would get a ping, they too repeat the same process and off the message goes. How many of us can imagine a world without email and texting? Certainly it would be vastly different, but our ancestors would frown upon our communication methods today.

Connection and communication have always been integral aspects of our human story, thousands of years of History has left us with hundreds or even thousands of communication methods, from the earliest stone tablets to hieroglyphs to ink pens and now to digital communication. Social media has made communication easier than it has ever been in the history of humankind. The enormous potential of digital communication far exceeds that of sending a simple correspondence to your friends or relatives. Businesses too, have been transformed by the advent of social media and networking.

Some stores don’t even exist in conventional ways anymore. Lots more online stores that sell products digitally only are springing up literally everywhere. It’s not difficult to see why either, since businesses save costs when it comes to paying for rent and space, which is often the main reason why brick-and-mortar businesses fail. Online stores have a distinct advantage over their brick-and-mortar store counterparts - they can quite literally last as long as they need to so long as their platform remains online.

Social media has provided a great avenue for these businesses and corporations to reinvent conventional marketing and networking. Something as traditional as shaking hands or negotiating details don’t even have to be in-person anymore. Businesses have fundamentally changed their operation structure, and for larger companies who can afford the digital infrastructure, networking is as simple as a click and a camera turned on.

That of course, the very nature of social media itself, allows information to propagate much faster and reach further than any medium ever has. This is, as I’ll talk about later, a double-edged sword. You can hear about what’s happening with a single click on screen, watching videos in HD resolution, as though you were there. No matter whether you’re in the United States, Estonia, Seychelles, so long as you have an Internet connection, the world is yours.

2. Social media has forged deeper connections

The Internet has grown into a perpetual, eternally working machine, seamlessly bridging the gap between the online space and the real world. So much of our lives are unimaginable offline, and social media has certainly contributed to forging deeper relationships with some people.

Think about a long-lost old friend who you haven’t spoken to who you have found through the miracle of Technology, maybe you might not have had an identical experience, but it is pretty wonderful (or slightly creepy) to think that you are just one text or call away from making new friends, or rekindling old bonds.

While some might argue that social media takes away from the joy of connection, it has, undoubtedly, allowed everyone to forge deeper connections, not just with friends, but with relatives and other people too.

What is foreseeable is that social media is a vast catalyst of forging connections across our social sphere, and they may even have the potential to develop into deeper and longer lasting relationships that go beyond our initial expectations.

3. Social media allows everyone to be a creator

Such is the power of a social network that it allows its users to be their own brand of creator, their own boss of a brand.

Creating is powerful, and it certainly has the potential to impact others and change their worlds. In simpler times, a social network was an even simpler thing, allowing people to create videos (YouTube), share photos (Instagram) or share short thoughts (Twitter) and then upload them. Most social media networks have not pivoted away from this fundamental purpose entirely, but there seems to have been a lot more polishing and embellishing nowadays.

But the true power of social media, in my opinion, is that anyone can have their own personal identity (or the identity they want people to think they have) and build their own persona online. It’s basically a virtual reincarnation of you in the real world.

Think about how simple it is to get your thoughts out there today. Post an image in ten seconds, send a Tweet out in two seconds, so on and so forth. Simply put, it’s never a better time (or a worst time) to be public.

In the past, announcing the news or sharing your opinion was done exclusively through radio shows and newspapers. Today, anyone can record a video or share a picture of themselves and upload it. That’s how powerful it is.

Argument #2: Social media is more harmful than useful

“I remind myself that I’m always more satisfied by human interaction than by a digital connection.” - Maulik Pancholy

1. Social media is an integral aspect of why there is so much fake news

Now we get to the fun part.

The proliferation of fake or incomplete information is rising in today’s increasingly digital sphere.

With the rise of digital platforms and more digital communication platforms, information unintentionally or intentionally gets spliced and split along the way. So much of the fake news today appeals to our sense of Pathos - the emotional, and oftentimes, irrational part of ourselves. Overly sensationalised, blown out of proportion. It’s not difficult to chance upon a news headline in all caps, shouting at you while you slowly scroll down the page on your mobile phone or flip the page in the newspaper, trying to grab your attention so you would

Factual reporting is becoming less and less common in our society today. While there are a significant number of factors contributing to this rise in fake news, social media is certainly a big aspect of the issue. It would be a sheer misconception to think that this only happens in political news - it happens for virtually every form of media today.

My very own love of Literature, History and English was influenced by the media I consumed from a young age, exposed to books that I dearly loved and the unforgettable joy of learning new words.

Media will only be more and more influential as the Digital Age continues, technology is growing faster than we could have ever imagined, and will only continue to grow exponentially in the many years ahead of us. In the future, we will look back upon this present moment and think about what we have created in this revolution, in this moment of time, are we creating monsters which we have no control over?

Fake news is not, in itself, a monster. It is simply the negative byproduct of the system which we created with our own hands. The Internet remains a highly unregulated place, that in our own history, it remains a nascent invention. Fake news finds a home everywhere on the Internet - it doesn’t always hide in the shadier, darker, more unregulated parts of the Internet - it’s everywhere, sometimes hiding in plain sight.

Social media is one of those places where fake news can show its face in the light, as oblivious scrollers send subconscious signals to their brain as they read it, compelling you to share it with your friends, maybe out of anger, solidarity or sadness.

There are studies that show that fake news spreads times faster than actual, factual content. Fake news leaves room for thinking and for imagination. It’s sort of its own thriller, waiting for the reader to finish the story. There is a certain level of excitement and suspense you do not get from actual news.

The next time you feel angered by an article, stop, think and calm down. Examine it objectively without bias, so that you would not be the very thing social media wants you to be - gullible, emotional, unreasonable.

2. Social media has allowed new forms of crime to arise

With new technology, comes new crime. We’re not the only ones evolving because criminals are too. The only question is whether we’re able to remain a few steps ahead of them as we progress. Cyberspace and social media are perfect breeding grounds for brand-new criminal activity and for conventional crime to evolve.

Cybercrime was unheard of before we invented the Internet. With the later creation of social media platforms, the ability for crime to become harder to catch, easier to spread and more resistant to the police.

Your social media platform probably reveals more about you than you know or think you know. Most of us brush that off without so much as a second look or a lingering thought. What can they find?

The truth is, more than you think they can. Social media is actually the perfect place for criminals and fugitives to seek information. As a serial BuzzFeed Unsolved watcher, I really enjoy Aria Inthavong’s ‘Aria Investigates’ series on the channel, which explores brutal crimes that originated from cyberspace and spilled over to the real world, often resulting in really unpleasant outcomes. It is a painful reminder of just how easy it is to become part of a system we weren’t meant to - to see first hand our gullibility and vulnerability, and how the system we created can be used against us.

3. Social media has led to increasing unhappiness among the youth population

It is most certainly not a surprise to hear that a growing number of youth, no matter where in the world, are becoming more unhappy as society progresses.

With anxiety and depression amongst youth skyrocketing, social media is certainly not the complete factor behind the rise of such mental health illness cases.

However, multiple studies have concluded that social media has detrimental impacts on youth mental health, and has contributed to a rise in mental health cases around the world.

Social media is a great catalyst for increasing unhappiness. Seeing your friends going on extraordinary trips and eating great food while you’re lying on your bed doesn’t always stir up very nice feelings. Comparing becomes the norm when you are scrolling through social media, creating a culture of ‘wants” and not “needs”.

To sum up, social media has allowed criminal activity to flourish and evolve. So long as social media continues to remain unregulated, criminal activity will only grow more and more common as technology and society as a whole progresses.

Ultimately, whether social media is more of a force for good or bad lies in the intention of the users. Social media sites are not created with an intention to be bad or to cause harm, but in recent years, the evils of social media has led to a fundamental question of how much tech has been affecting our own lives.

Most inventions weren’t invented to be bad or malicious, but rather they seek to eliminate difficulties and break down barriers in our everyday lives. Social media has enormous potential and can virtually be applied anywhere in the world, a reminder of the social nature of us human beings - creative, innovative but fallible. Social media is not perfect because we are not perfect. Social media has changed the lives of millions of people, and connects us to the grand vision of universal connection.

It’s not too late to make that happen.

References -

Cover photo by Adrian Swancar on Unsplash

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