“You learn the hard way. That’s the thing with social media. Nobody knows what they’re doing.” – Cameron Dallas
By Dhara Tandon
Social media has facilitated a lot in reshaping communication industry and redefining the ways in which we communicate and express ourselves. We have embraced it so tenaciously that social media is now an integral part of our life. It is sweeping across geographies, industries and almost every sphere. Not only individuals, but also businesses, governments are utilizing social media platforms for constant engagement with the masses. Social media allows people to create, share, or exchange information, ideas, and pictures/videos in virtual communities and networks. It’s a tool that provides users of the Internet unprecedented access to information, freedom to collaborate or build relationships, as well as to create and exchange user-generated content. Though social media offers a global platform to share and express but it’s constant engagement is affecting individual productivity, relationships and society as a whole.
KEY FACTS AND FIGURES:
In 2020, It is estimated that there will be around 2.77 billion social network users around the globe. According to a report, the number of people using the top social media platform in each country has increased by almost 1 million new users every day during the past 12 months. The global number of people using social media has grown by 13 percent in the past 12 months, with Central and Southern Asia recording the fastest gains.
Facebook is the most preferred social media platform. With more than 2000 million Facebook user around the world, if a country is constituted with them, it would be world’s third largest, behind India and China. The other popular social media platforms are YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, Reddit, Whatsapp. According to 2017 official report published by Facebook, on average there were 1.40 billion daily active users with 14% increase over the year. According to forecasts from media analyst firm, US, Social media advertisement revenues are expected to grow to USD 24.2 billion in 2021.
Social media has brought the world so close that political and geographical boundaries are crumbling. Time may come when netizenship may surpass citizenship. The more people-to-people communication is, the more is the strengthening of relationships. This is the basic principle of the political concept of nation building. In an information society, bonds grow stronger. Social media engages people constantly and accumulate everyone in some or the other trending activity. However, social media has both it’s advantages and disadvantages.
A Positive Force
Social media provides a global platform to express one’s views and ideas without any reservations or biasness. It allows instant communication with friends and family and automatically provides up to date information also known as “statuses” while allowing us to find new individuals to meet. Social media is a cost-effective marketing and branding tool. It has created a paradigm shift in the way brands advertise and market products. Social media has created new avenues for learning and job creation which never existed before the advent of social media. Governments of many countries are leveraging social media to engage with the citizens and to garner their support, suggestions and views on policies for effective governance.
As far as students are concerned in this dynamic, social media has benefitted them in numerous ways. For one, it allows students to exchange notes and lessons. Even professors share tutorials on social media. During this lockdown period, many teachers have found innovative ways to teach using platforms like YouTube and Twitter. Two, with the help of social media platforms, students now have access to large number of like-minded people. If you are preparing for admission to a university, you can connect with alumni of that university to take guidance. Three, social media offers a platform for students to get their portfolio published. It allows them the option to be heard and seen. Four, Educational institutes, teachers and professors can extend their classroom discussions and post assignments, quizzes and tests and assists students with homework.
There is no denying that social media has encouraged a culture of entrepreneurship. It gives people with unusual interests and hobbies a place to share information and passion which helps them enhance and manage their social lives. Many professions that were not seen with respect are now being given their dues. If one enjoys carpentry or makeup, social media influencers are now selling their passion viz apps like Instagram and YouTube and earning a fortune as well. Social news is also feeding the intellect of students and others by keeping them updated with what’s happening around the world. Various news media share updates on social media and increase awareness in young learners. You can enhance and improve your skills by sharing your ideas, knowledge, and information through social media, with millions of people even if they are miles away from you. Social platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram help in attracting new customers and engross the customers with products which makes their brand popular. It enables a business to get new information about their customers and improve their customer services.
A Distraction and Hindrance
While there are several benefits of social media, some cons are hard to neglect. While many users feel their personal data is safe on social networking sites because they have set high levels of security settings, research suggests this is not the case. A case in point is the recent case of where a researcher linked to Cambridge Analytica (CA), a political consulting firm had accessed details of 50 million Facebook users. The data was shared with Cambridge Analytica, which used online data to reach voters on social media with personalized messages and swayed 2016 US elections. Recently, Netflix released an American documentary-drama on September 2020, which goes by the name- “Social Dilemma”. It explores the rise of social media and the damage it has caused to society, focusing on it’s exploitation and manipulation of it’s users for financial gain through surveillance capitalism and data mining. The docudrama film has shown the dark side of social media from the people who created it. It goes in to the depth on how social media’s design is meant to nurture an addiction, manipulate it’s use in politics, and spread conspiracy theories. The film also examines the serious issue of social media’s effect on mental health (including the mental health of adolescents and rising teen suicide rates).
Social media platforms and big tech companies have been instrumental in providing positive change for society; such platforms have caused problematic social, political and cultural consequences. Social media sites can make it more difficult for us to distinguish between the meaningful relationships we foster in the real world, and the numerous casual relationships formed through social media. While, on the surface it appears social networking brings people together across the internet, in larger sense, it may create social isolation. People use their social profiles to project their lives as “perfect”, and they constantly compare their lives with others and think of themselves as low which decreases their happiness and leads to self-esteem issues. People are becoming so addicted to social media that they are spending most of their time on it instead of doing any other productive or significant work. Lots of people now prefer online conversations rather than meeting in person, which is weakening their relationships. It also affects communication skills and socializing abilities.
Privacy is also one of the major drawbacks of social media and their increased use. Hacking accounts and using other person’s personal information for malicious intentions has been an issue since the usage of social media started and it has only been increasing. Also, there are no reliable measures to check the credibility of the news and videos present on social media. The spread of misinformation can severely impact decision-making process. This is because we are closer in the virtual world but far away in the physical world. Digital culture has become so widespread that whatever happens on the net, is readily accepted. Cross-check is almost nil. It is a dangerous trend and it has a cascading effect. Not only the problem is of the magnitude but also in not being able to find it’s source also. Hence, thoughts of innocent people get easily shaped and influenced by distorted information.
Online bullying and harassment (cyberbullying) leads to anxiety and depression which is the most underrated disadvantage of social media. People use these sites to prey on the naive and vulnerable. Especially, it’s a problem with youngsters and students, where students are radicalized by non-state actors, terrorist organizations that preach wrong ideas to vulnerable learners through social media and they may also fall prey to cybercrimes on the dark web. The victimization is directly related to lower self-esteem and an increase in suicidal thoughts in young people. Additionally, people end up “chasing likes”, in a bid to, as they see it, earn approval from their peers. All such kinds of addiction and becoming overly-concerned with how we will be perceived by others, only sets unattainable standards for ourselves and affects the mental health and well being of the person.
In sum, whether social media is a boon or a bane, entirely depends on how we use it. Certainly, social media has much to offer to the society and we have benefitted from increased convenience in information acquisition, communication, conversations, engagement and a lot more but at the same time, social media has also made individuals and groups communicate in a manner that is unbecoming of them as individuals, and which has led to unwanted outcomes online as well as offline.
So how do we ensure that we use social media responsibly and that is acceptable to all? First, the responsibility of using the media rests with each of us. Every time an individual uses the social media, she needs to ask whether she is using the media responsibly or not. Second, Are we aware of the consequences of the communication/message that we put on social media? We need need to think twice and through before posting anything. It’s important to understand that we are not as anonymous as we think, the internet leaves a trail everywhere for everyone. Third, focus on what you really enjoy to avoid overuse. Ask yourself what type of content do you really enjoy? Do you care about what your friends post on Facebook? Or do you prefer visual content on Instagram? Maybe you enjoy the more professional content from LinkedIn. Answer that question and limit your usage to just one or two social media platforms rather than media stream binging and apps switching where the cycle continues. Surely, you won’t stop using social media but you’ll limit the time you spend on your phone.
Conclusively, here are the recommended countermeasures to protect oneself against social media :
- Turn off notifications or reduce the number of notifications you receive
- Uninstall social media and news apps that are wasting time
- Use a search engine that doesn’t store search history, like Qwant
- Use browser extensions to block recommendations
- Fact-check before liking, commenting or sharing information that looks surprising
- Obtain sources of information with different perspectives, including sources one might disagree with
- Do not give devices to children; no screen time
- Never accept recommended video on YouTube, Facebook or anywhere
- Try to avoid any clickbait material
- Keep devices out of the bedroom after a certain time
When it comes to whether social networking is right for you, that is something only you can decide, using your own judgements and past experiences. It is best to reap the benefits of social media while being aware of the malpractices online and strike a healthy balance between the real and virtual world.