My thoughts and feelings towards social media have changed throughout my life. I clearly remember the first time I engaged in an early form of social media/networking. It was 1998, I was 11 years old entering the 6th grade. On the first day of school, my friends could not stop talking about AOL Instant Messenger (AIM). I had no clue what AIM was, but had to find out. From my friends’ description, I thought that AIM was just chat room that you could join and talk with other people. This really did not interest me since my experience with chat rooms was mostly comical and somewhat creepy. Even though I was skeptical, I went home that day and had my brother install AIM on our computer. I created the username ImJustJoking54, which was a pun of my name Joseph King and my soccer number. I was late to join the AIM craze, but quickly became savvy like my friends. I had an extensive buddy list, was able to chat with multiple friends at once, and created deep away messages including song lyrics to spark the interest of a girl that I had a crush on at the time.
If you asked the 11 year-old Joe what his initial thoughts on social media was he would say that it made it easier to connect with his friends. I had gained a freedom that I previously did not have. I could speak to multiple people at any time and express myself though my profile and away messages. AIM was not all rainbows and sunshine. I can also remember the stress and fights that AIM created. Messages that were misinterpreted would lead to broken friendships. I vividly remember a peer logging on to someone else’s screen name to impersonate one my friends. The impersonator then shared the conversation with other people. That interaction did not end well to say the least.
My next significant experience with social media was the summer before attended undergrad. It was 2005 and I was working as a camp counselor. I was talking to one of my colleagues about college roommates and she said that she was Facebook friends with her roommate and floor mates. Similar to AIM, I was unfamiliar with Facebook, went home that night, and created a profile. Having a Facebook account decreased the anxiety of entering a large university not knowing anyone. I was able to connect with my roommate and other students before class started. Throughout my undergrad, I used Facebook to meet new friends, organize a university soccer club, and coordinate social events. Additionally, I could stay connected with friends from high school. At this point, my relationship with social media switched from communication and expression to creating connections and collaborations. I was able to create a social network. Facebook also had it cons. In college, I saw many of my friends become addicted to Facebook. They would repeat the cycle of creating and deleting their Facebook page because they would become so engrossed in looking at profiles. Personally, I spent many hours procrastinating tests and projects by logging onto Facebook. I found that if I wanted to be productive I had to set a limit on the time I spent on social media. To this day, I still have to set that limit.
After I finished graduate school, I worked as a school counselor at an elementary school in Dorchester. During this time, I witnessed how damaging social media can be to children. Students as young as six had access to smartphones and social media. By having this access, they were exposed to content that no six-year-old should not be exposed to. I had multiple meetings with parents where I explained the dangers of smartphone access for children and how to create parental controls on smartphones. Additionally, cyber bulling was very prevalent in my schools. Students used Kik, a mobile chat and social media application, to communicate with each other. Kik was very popular because users could be anonymous. This made it very challenging to identify who the bully was and how to react to the situation. The conversations that I read were terrible, and the worst part was that it was very difficult to stop. My experiences working in the school has led to the formation of my opinion that children should have limited to no access to social media.
My current feelings towards social media are mixed. Two months ago, I deleted my Facebook account due to the proliferation of fake-news. I could not logon to my account without seeing multiple friends or acquaintances ranting about news that was biased or fake. In a sense, all news is biased, but some of the information being shared was downright incredulous. What used to be a place where I could connect with my friends and find interesting articles became a source of constant frustration. I am avid podcast listener and recommend anyone who is interested in learning more about fake-news to listen to a Planet Money’s “Finding the Fake-News King” . The hosts of the episode are able to track down the author of popular fake-news articles and interview him. What I was surprised to see is how much money an author of fake-news can make. The business of fake-news is so lucrative that I do not see it stopping.
As I enter this class I understand that social media has its pros and cons. That has been the reoccurring theme throughout my life. I am currently a Program Manager for City Connects at Boston College. We have just begun to utilize social media to tell our story and reach more funders and school districts. I am excited to learn more through this class and help strengthen the social media outreach for our organization.