In the past few decades, information technology has advanced with a massive pace and key developments have been made in the way in which we interact with each other through the emergence of social media (from here on referred as SM). In India alone, 90% of the college students use SM, spending 2 hours a day on an average on SM sites. Anything on which people spend this much time on is worthy of critical observation. While there are several advantages of SM, many believe that there are a few issues associated with SM, which if unchecked may become a major problem for individuals. This essay will discuss the positive and negative effects of using social web and my opinion as to how to use SM judiciously in order to mitigate the negative issues. Social networking brings with itself numerous benefits which have had great impact on the society. Apart from the mundane advantages like — remain connected to friends, make new friends, share multi media — it also provides us with opportunities to get involved in community volunteering, charity events, and to expand one’s connections through finding individuals with similar interests. Another boon of SM sites is the ease of knowledge flow among individuals, which has increased the learning opportunities. Many students use SM to share their ideas, while schools use blog websites like edublogs.com to share educational information with their students.
One of the studies carried out by a group of university researchers in China and Hong Kong reported that social networking improves educational outcomes by allowing students to connect with the faculty, share commentary and collaborate on group tasks.
Though there are evident benefits of SM, however there are numerous studies which link diseases like Anxiety, Depression and Stress with the high usage of social networking sites. There are 3 major attributes to using social networking which cause stress.
Firstly, whenever we go online, we compare other people’s best and brightest moments (aka highlight reel) with our current situation. SM is every individual’s personal highlight reel, we only upload the photographs of exciting parts of our vacations, or when we go out with friends, or while doing some appealing recreational outdoor activity. Keeping this in mind, Steven Furtick famously said – “The reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel”. In fact, whenever we go to a social networking website, we are constantly comparing ourselves with our friends’ posts, doesn’t matter even if in general, we are better off than a particular friend we still compare our situation at that moment with the friend’s highlight reel — and in the process of doing so, we develop the feeling of anxiety.
Secondly, for many people FOMO – or the “fear of missing out” is the reason for SM addiction . In FOMO, one might regret that he could miss a potential event, connection or opportunity with other individuals and this creates a temptation to reach out for your mobile phones again and again to check what others are up to. Furthermore, social applications sends you notifications about your likes and comments that your friends have given to your posts, which draws our attention. This temptation eventually converts into addiction, leading to anxiety.
Lastly, the SM has also become a haven for harassment, which is perhaps the worst stress-maker of SM. According to Pew Internet Research, about 40% of the users have experienced online harassment and about two-thirds of users have witnessed it happening to others online. LGBTQ, person-of-color and women in particular can receive a cornucopia online threats. For instance, 18 year old Tyler Clementi became a victim of cyber harassment and committed suicide after his room-mate secretly filmed in an intimate act with another man and posted the video of Tyler on Twitter.
Similarly, Anita Sarkeesian the author of the Feminist Frequency video series was given multiple threats for sharing her feminism thoughts, some of which were sexual in nature.
After discussing these issues associated with SM, one might think that the best way to prevent oneself from these issues is to limit or completely stop our SM usage. However, Social media is so deeply ingrained in contemporary society that abstinence from SM is no longer a choice. Instead, if used cautiously, SM will be really beneficial to mankind. It is just the most recent tool that we use to communicate with each other and express ourselves.
In order have a good experience of using SM, we need to follow some simple preventative and coping strategies — by auditing and filtering the information we consume on SM sites. In other words, subscribe to social channels which makes you feel good and avoid unwanted noise from your SM profile. For instance, if you are learning music, follow a musician you admire. Or if too many advertisements on your Facebook wall are meddling with your buying habits, unfollow the advertiser’s channels. In addition, we can make sure that we model good behavior online so that we can make other’s experience of social network usage great as well.
Many organizations and governments have also taken measures to make SM a safe place for users. The United States government has recently proposed the “Intimate Privacy Protection Act” which makes distribution of someone’s private multimedia a crime. Organizations like Reddit, Twitter have banned posting of private explicit multimedia and Google had also announced that it remove explicit personal photos from its search results upon request.
To conclude, SM is a great modern tool which could be used for good, and even though there could be some downsides associated with it, they could be prevented by monitoring your social network diet. Hence, if used judiciously SM can help you develop socially, mentally and even economically.