Social media has silently penetrated and tightened its clutch over all aspects of our lives, may they be social, emotional or economical. People are more commonly seen engaged with cell phones in their hand and a wide grin on their face, totally oblivious of the world around them. This has the implication that they spend more time reading and updating posts on social media than actually calling their friends and family. In fact a latest study shows that people spend more time on social media than they do sleeping. Alarming. Isn’t it? With its tentacles sprawled all over, where social media imparts enormous benefits to the society, it has its downsides too. Let us weigh the pros and cons of social media and leave it up to you to decide which way the balance tilts.
Positive effects of social media on the society
Social media provides a common platform for people from all walks of life to interact and socialize with each other. It breaks down all geographical, religious and cultural barriers and helps people connect with family and strangers alike.
In the electronic age of today when people prefer texting and sending e-cards to sending letters and greeting cards, social media provides an excellent opportunity to keep in touch with friends and family we don’t see frequently and strengthen relationships.
Participating in debates and discussions on different topics boosts up our knowledge and confidence. Interacting with individuals with diverging beliefs, opinions and ideologies gives us a chance to exercise critical thinking and logical reasoning to choose and develop more informed outlooks on religion, politics and culture.
Where excessive use may promote malaise, social media usage within controlled limits has in fact helped shy people and introverts to overcome their reluctance and ward off feelings of loneliness. Recent studies show that virtual interactions on social media have helped people fight off the evil of depression and saved them from committing suicide. As a matter of fact, blogging has proved to be an indirect way to vent out suppressed feelings and frustrations and acts as a panacea for diseased minds.
Interacting with like-minded people reveals our true identity and helps us in discovering who we really are and what we really think and believe.
Where most people use it for casual interaction, social media can be used in more constructive ways. Google being notoriously popular for providing answer to potentially any query that may come to your mind, social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and My Space can be positively used to exchange information on educational subjects and conduct group discussions on school assignments.
A survey conducted among American students showed that around 59% of students use social networking to discuss educational topics and 50% use the sites to talk about school assignments.
Teachers can use it to collaborate with their students, answer their queries and assign new tasks.
With greater access to free resources online, students have shown an improvement in grades and a stronger home-school connection has substantially reduced absenteeism.
With updates on diverse topics, social networking sites boost up general knowledge and mass literacy.
For children who cannot attend school because of a lack of resources or feasibility, social media sites can serve as virtual classrooms where students can learn via video tutorials and lectures as well as interact with their teachers and peers.
Social media sites such as YouTube and Facebook are becoming the primary mediums that people use to reach out to the latest news, technology updates, recipes and a variety of other subjects of interest.
Social media is used as a powerful tool to inspire mass movements and bring political change. It seems like the focal point of political war has shifted from the streets to the social forums. People enjoy complete freedom to express their opinions, concerns and appreciations. They are kept abreast with local and global developments and provided an insight into the personal lives and strategies adopted by leaders around the world.
Social media has played an important role in increasing voter participation and channelizing the masses for many elections around the world including Iran, India and U.S. It has also bridged the gap between the leaders and the ordinary man by facilitating communication and increasing accountability. Today, no politician can dream of success without hopping onto the social media bandwagon. Unlike conventional political campaigns, social media provides a cheap yet a very effective way to communicate with and mobilize the masses for a cause. In fact, it has been utilized to sow the seed for rebellion and create political unrest in many countries.
Social media sites such as LinkedIn provide an opportunity for amateurs and starters to collide with professionals and entrepreneurs and get linked in a mutually beneficial bond. Statistics show that 89% of job recruiters have hired via LinkedIn, 26% via Facebook, and 15% via Twitter.
Social media sites have created thousands of jobs and new possibilities of generating income.
Many students support themselves financially by taking blogging as a part time job. On sites like Slice the Pie, teenagers are paid for rating music. Many websites pay for participating in online surveys. On becoming a partner, YouTube pays for popular videos (the rate is around $1 per 1000 views). As a matter of fact, such sites are highly promising for life long earning. Sites such as Odesk provide a platform to employers worldwide to seek potential candidates for long-term business plans as well as increase profit margins by outsourcing business to developing nations.
Net-savvy organizations promote their businesses online, especially by advertising their products on social media sites and creating profile pages to connect and receive feedback from the end users. This helps them in understanding the market trends and modifying their products and strategies to fit public demand. In order to draw traffic to their social media webpage, many companies organize contests and give away prizes. As compared to the expensive advertising in newspapers and television, social media provides a cheaper alternative to reach out to a wider audience.
Negative impacts on the society
Losing connection with reality:
It is true that social media strengthens old relations and help build new ones, but these easy, casual relations created and nurtured in an electronic environment are quite superficial and do not provide us the desired catharsis that needs connection on a deeper, emotional level.
People on social media usually flag only the good things in their lives, deliberately hiding all their weaknesses, sorrows and short comings. This overly optimistic view of the world conflicts with real life resulting in people losing connection with reality and overindulging in social media as an escape mechanism. This has resulted in social isolation and neglect of relations in real life.
According to Cornell University’s Steven Strogatz, 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.
The results of a survey testing different age groups for excessive use of social media reveals that about half of the people between the age of 18 and 34 remained engaged in social media sites or texting during meals. Around 10%% of people younger than 25 confessed that they felt the urge to check their phones and social media even during sex.
It appeals to any rational mind that when the connections in the virtual world overshadow face-to-face interactions and hamper with the chores of our daily routine, negative repercussions are likely to follow. Research into this field reveals that people who are extensively engaged online are more likely to suffer from brain damage and various personality disorders.
A relatively recent term coined for chronic feelings of lowliness is Facebook Depression. Where these platforms keep us informed about the whereabouts and latest happenings in the lives of our near and dear ones, they subconsciously also promote feelings of jealousy and competition. Human psyche being so complex and unpredictable, a friend’s new job may excite and fill us with happiness one moment only to be replaced with low self-esteem and envy the other. Studies show that this depression is as likely to be stirred by up comparison (comparison with superiors) as by down comparison (comparison with inferiors).
A survey shows that more than 90% of the school students have a Facebook and a Twitter account. The urge to check back on the latest posts, comments and tweets force young people especially to spend hours on these sites. Most youths spend at least an hour a day in the most popular social networks. Gradually this urge transforms into an addiction and distracts them every now and then at work or school. This leads to falling grades, loss of productivity, anxiety and attention deficit syndromes such as ADHD, where the subjects are unable to focus their attention on a task for a longer period of time.
Too much period of physical inactivity can lead to Internet-induced obesity, sluggishness and other related disorders.
Tuning onto these websites way into the night can give the brain a false alarm of daylight induced by the light radiating out from the laptops and smartphones. This leads to untimely production of melatonin that is responsible for alertness and results in disturbance in circadian rhythm and other sleep disorders.
The unbalanced nature of the social world that deliberately promotes all the good and shun all the dark aspects of life results in people developing narcissistic tendencies overtime. The ‘love for oneself’ further worsens the situation and results in greater alienation from loved ones in the offline world.
Where the world of social media opens up new avenues for learning and educating the masses far and wide, it can act as a constant source distraction for young and adults alike.
About 69% of American High school have banned the usage or possession of cell phones. Despite the prohibition, 63% of students use them anyway. They are seen multitasking in the classrooms resulting in reduced attention and a decline in grades. Studies prove that whereas social media can boost grades for light users, GPAs for heavy users of social media tend to suffer.
With ready-made solutions available for every question over the net, there is a reduced focus on learning and retaining information. Students refrain from putting in their own hard work into assignments and rely on cheating.
Social media posts that may seem innocuous on the outside can actually go a long way in deciding your educational fate. About 80% of the colleges use Facebook to screen their applicants for college admissions. Generally every 1 in 10 admission officers from the world’s top 500 colleges check out their applicant’s social media profiles before finalizing their decision making process. What’s more? 38% of the colleges said that what they saw ‘negatively affected’ their views of the applicant.
The sloppy language used by youngsters in chat rooms and other socializing websites gradually leads to a deterioration in grammar, spellings, vocabulary and syntax. As a matter of fact, the youth has become so habitual of using the acronyms that they insert the same self-crafted abbreviations in their assignments and tests, resulting in a loss of marks.
Loss of productivity at work:
Like students, social forums also serve as a diversion for employees who spend a major part of their working hours going back on and checking their social profiles. This results in a loss of productivity at work. Surveys show that about 51% of users aged 25-34 check social media at work.
Interestingly enough, the employers also run a back ground check on the prospective employee’s social bio data for things like racism, religious beliefs, grammar and sexism before hiring. Any embarrassing photo or careless comment can drastically decrease your chances of procuring a job.
Social websites provide a haven to the cyberbullies who use personal information posted by innocent people to harass, humiliate and threaten them. The anonymity afforded by these bullies behind a screen brings out their dark instincts, which would otherwise remain hidden. From sending threatening messages and emails to targeted humiliation on social media and other websites, cyberbullying has pushed many a victims to nerve wrecking limits, causing them to claim their own lives. Every 1 out of 3 teens have admitted of receiving menacing online advances from others.
Cyberbullying is a general online phenomenon but shows greater prevalence on social media as many people share details of their personal lives over there. Pew research found that nearly 39 percent of teens on social network have been cyberbullied in some way, compared with 22 percent of online teens who do not use social networks.
Lack of privacy:
Privacy is a term more suited for the offline world unless you are a public figure constantly surrounded by paparazzi. There is no privacy online. The information that you float on the web, remains there forever, in one way or the other, even if you erase or delete it at your own end. If you are not careful enough, your digital footprint can have serious consequences in your personal and professional life.
People normally share too much with too many, especially on public forums. Most of them are not aware of the privacy controls and put themselves at a risk for criminal advances like stalking, hacking, cyberbullying and identity theft.
No matter how robust the privacy settings may seem to be, your personal information can always be intercepted by the government and corporate sector. The US Justice Department intercepts thousands of pieces of information from email and social networking activity per year.
Insurance companies can also access your social activity to hunt for clues. For example if you have liked a post about a certain medical condition, they can use that as a cue to determine your eligibility and increase their rates. Similarly advertisers sneak into your privacy to look for your interests and then lure you into buying their products.
Spread of misinformation:
As reliable as it may seem, Internet in general and social networks in particular have their weak points too. With lenient checks on authenticity, anyone can put up whatever they like often resulting in spread of false rumors and unreliable information. The information usually reflects the thinking of the writer that may not necessarily be true and unbiased. People generally seek solutions to their daily problems on the web. What they often receive in return are home remedies and amateur medical advice. Self-diagnosis and treatment in the light of insufficient information usually puts their life in danger.
Vulnerability to crime:
Where information posted on the web can be seen by friends and family, it can also be exploited by criminal minds to cause you harm in some way. For instance robbers and stalkers can follow you through your social media posts to perpetrate crime. Sexual predators and pedophiles are on the loose and they find, stalk and hunt down their prey through social media. The increasing trend of sexting i.e. posting nude pictures and objectionable material online is counted as a criminal offence under the charge of child pornography. What is more devastating is that 88% of “private” sexual images posted to social media are stolen and publicly posted on porn sites without the subject’s knowledge. Unauthorized sharing on the web is considered as a violation of copyrights and felony.
Waste of time:
An average teenager spends about 27 hours weekly on social media. Most of this time is spent in sheer entertainment. Moreover, it is observed that once distracted by a latest post or tweet, it takes about half an hour for a person to return back to the original task. In some situations, however it may take up to 2 hours. We need to seriously think if such frequent social media visits are actually worth our time.
Social media is inherently neither good nor bad. It is the use of it that makes it so. Having discussed the advantages and disadvantages of social media, it is up to each one of us to decide which side we want to be on and act wisely so as to reap its benefits without getting trapped in the dangerous web of the cyber world.