Social media annoys me a large part of the time. I’m not sure I can quite call it “the majority,” but it’s pretty close. I hate turning to my phone and scrolling through my feeds because I feel there is nothing better to do. I hate feeling like I need to check my accounts to see what might be happening. I hate feeling like if I am not on certain network, I may not know something that people are talking about. And most of all, I hate getting the notifications.
I have thought about taking a break from social media on several occasions. And prior to this class, I had never really used a personal Twitter account. I am not the type of person who suffers from separation anxiety when I do not have my phone on me, and I am thankful for that. I leave my phone behind when I go to the gym, and I used to keep my phone in my car back when I worked in a restaurant. It is good to take a break from the constant connection. And every so often, I debate deleting my accounts completely, or at least removing the apps from my phone.
However, if there is one thing I have learned this semester, between the readings, discussions, and presentations, it is that there is no way I can remove myself from social media. In today’s professional landscape, a business school Senior cannot afford to lack a social media presence. Companies recruit on LinkedIn, communicate on Slack, interview on Skype, etc.; to disconnect would be a terrible decision. I would effectively be removing myself from the applicant pool. Especially considering that companies can actually measure your social media impact with things like the Klout Score when considering you for employment. So as much as I would like to disappear for a while, I will not.
That said, I do think that we still have a lot to learn regarding the use of social media and digital technology. It is a balancing act; turning to social media too often can clearly be detrimental to face-to-face social interaction, as Sherry Turkle points out in her Ted talk, but clearly not being present online would leave you out of the loop.
A key drawback of too much dependence on social media was easily seen during the election. Many people currently rely on Facebook and Twitter as news sources, but with the spread of viral and fake news, this can quickly create misinformed voters. The number of times I had to hear about Donald Trump calling Republicans dumb in people magazine (didn’t happen) or that the Pope had endorsed Trump (also didn’t happen) was agonizing. For some reason, when people see a photo or a headline with some link underneath it, it becomes fact. Of course, confirmation bias plays a huge part in the viral spread of these posts; people see something they agree with, or wish was true, and share it as if it was true. However, I find the idea that someone could rely on what is essentially a meme as a source of information to be terrifying.
An example of this, as current as it gets, is #pizzagate. Fake news about a child sex scandal taking place at a DC-area pizza shop garnered attention as the sites alleged Hillary Clinton and John Podesta, her campaign chief, were behind the child-trafficking and abuse. The owner and employees received death threats over the fake news, and yesterday, December 4th, a man was arrested after firing a gun in the restaurant. The man claimed to be on an investigative mission. An armed, angry man in a small, quiet neighbourhood pizza shop perfectly exemplifies the very real danger of perpetuating false claims about real people and places. Less reputable sources have perfected the art of professional-looking, subtitled videos that edit hours of crucial context into 20-second clips that leave viewers with the impression of being informed.
I do not think that the blame lies with Facebook, or that they should bear the weight of solving this issue entirely on their own. Much blame lies with us. We are all too quick to base our knowledge on a NowThis video we watched without even having sound enabled, or build an opinion around something said by the Buzzfeed Try Guys. Some companies have taken the short attention spans of today and used them to their advantage, and we need to be better. We will never be rid of bias, as it’s the nature of every individual to feel his or her opinion is best, but we owe ourselves to take the time to consider things adequately. We have a great tool for connecting all of us, with all the benefits we have discussed this semester, so now I just hope we get better at using it.