The scales have tipped
Social media is a powerful tool and applications seems limitless with new opportunities being uncovered almost daily on how to harness its power. What began as a way to connect people has transformed into a media giant that commands more of our attention daily. My initial thoughts about social media is that it is out of balance, with the bad components far out weighing the positive impacts and potential it has.
It is very easy to see the good in social media. Our lives are busy and sites like Facebook has filled a need in our society. As people become more mobile and pull up roots they no longer have to wait for a trip home or time to have an hour-long conversation with someone to be involved in the everyday happenings of loved ones lives. The ability to connect goes so much farther than that. In some cases, my own mother’s included, people have found and be reunited with siblings that they may not have known they had.
The ability to share and learn from sites like YouTube and Pinterest has opened up possibilities for individuals. The collaboration of ideas and sharing of knowledge that social media facilitates has increased levels of efficiency and enhanced people’s experiences. Sites like trip advisor that allow you to read reviews and other’s experience with just a few clicks can change the memories you are about to create on your next vacation. My own experience when planning my wedding was so valuable. I visited the Knot regularly and used it to plan my whole event from the music to the centerpieces. I am not myself a natural creative individual being able to steal shamelessly from other brides ideas and research allowed me to not only have my dream wedding but help me avoid unnecessary expense.
The most powerful opportunity for social media is the ability to form communities. Some are sites where people with common interest around a topic/product come together to chat and derive a feeling of inclusion. The ability for social media to drive people to activism on issues and problems facing society is where the potential for the most good resides. We see it time and time again, one instance being the Ice Bucket Challenge of 2014. The fund-raising of course was a benefit of the campaign but the ability for it to go viral and drive so much awareness around ALS is something so unique to social media.
There are certain lessons we learn as children that seem to not apply in the realm of social media. Whose mother hasn’t told them “if you don’t have something nice to say then say nothing at all”. I have worked in a call center environment and know first had how different and embolden customers are on a phone conversation vs face to face. Now we add in social media where people are allowed to comment/post/rant without live human reaction. Sure people can respond and post back but the instant accountability is lost. One of the worst impacts of social media is the proliferation of cyber bullying. Bullying of course is not new but the opportunities to be cruel are made easier and in some cases have been done under anonymity. This trend is hitting the teenage population most severely with instances of suicide and thoughts of suicide increasing. Some of the issues come from younger people not understanding the consequences of posts and how a decision made in an instant can stay with you forever.
We have stopped having real conversations. We speak in hashtags and pictures. Our weight as humans is measured in the number of likes or friends and not the quality of our relationships or experiences. Social media gives us the opportunity to not engage each other. This past weekend I volunteered are WGBH and arrived earlier. There were 3 other undergraduate students there from different schools for filing the similar community service obligations. I attempted to strike up conversation and asked questions about their majors and what they did for break, what they wanted to be when they grew up. They lifted their heads from their cells phones just long enough to give me just enough information to satisfy my question and then immediately buried themselves back into the comfort zone of Facebook, Twitter, or Instaface as Coach Belichick calls it. After my efforts to strike up conversation failed, I figured if I can’t beat ’em then join ’em and I distracted myself with social media and became unapproachable to new volunteers coming in.
The recent presidential election was also an eye opener to me on how social media can divide. Friends and family polarized by the issues were publically shaming each other and vocal about reasons for breaking connections with each other. The ability for social media to create mob type mentalities around issues and divide people into camps on either side is fascinating. Many issues have layers of complexity that go beyond the sentence or two they are given on social media. The voices of the extremist are the loudest and we find the issues over simplified with confusion around facts and alternative facts.
The balance needs to be restored on social media platforms. Human nature seems to be rewarding the most outrageous and insensitive of our society with the attention they receive on social media. The danger lies in what do the rest of us listen to. Who should our government representatives turn to, social media has an allure that it is the voice of the people. I think it is not. The voice is from the minority those of us in the middle must take a stand on what we accept on social media. Major sites like Facebook and Twitter can be platforms for business to interact with their customers, for sharing life’s moments, for engaging people to be involved in issues that matter. It should not be a place for rants and tirades were people are allowed to spue hate and condone persecution. As a society the people in the middle need to be heard to return the balance. Let’s be honest haters are always gonna hate and they have rights too. By refusing to access sites that allow this behavior those of us in the middle will have a powerful voice. The number of visitors are important for advertising dollars. Corporations like Facebook have failed to act responsibly on how their platform is being utilized. It’s time those of us in the middle send a message that forces social media to take notice and bring back kindness to social media.