Social media has become such an integral part of our lives that we sometimes fail to remember that only 10 years ago, it was still a budding idea. Facebook seemed like an unnecessary tool and LinkedIn was considered nothing more than a glorified digital Rolodex. It might surprise you to discover that Google+ was introduced in 2011 and Pinterest was introduced even later. One would be hard-pressed to find any avenue of life that does not rely heavily on social media whether it is social or professional. When asked, today’s children are dumbfounded when they discover that mobile phones have only been in use for around 20 years. For them, such a situation can only conceivably belong to an ancient time when dinosaurs roamed the earth. Social media now defines the world we live in. It has brought out the best in us and introduced us to some of our most shameful failings.
If we have to start harping about the dangers of social media, it’s only fair to start off with some of the advantages. The most apparent advantage is the ability to always be connected with anyone that has a cellphone. Gone are the days where you have to call back several times just to get in contact with someone. If you don’t have access to them by calling, you can leave a text or voice message. You can also send them an email or a direct message to the numerous social media applications. You can also immediately react to anything people post or share. It also contributed immensely to the ease of sharing any editorials. In the world of publishing, even something as a simple letter to a local newspaper was a hassle. It was even more difficult to find publications for any new findings by going through the painfully slow process of mailing the physical copy of the work and waiting for the approval to happen. On another note, people traditionally got their news from major news outlets such as newspapers, television news anchors, and periodicals. What social media, and Twitter Facebook, in particular, provide are alternative sources for obtaining news. Sure they are filled with the mundane celebrity news from who is hooking up with whom and who is having what is done, but it also contains a wealth of serious news. Even international news such as the unfortunate terrorist attacks is being broadcasted and reported live from witnesses. There are plenty of amateur journalists that share their opinions in blogs and posts creating a wealth of information for anyone to broaden their perspectives. Every person has the ability to voice their words on a global level. Twitter has also had a significant impact because of the use of hashtags. These hashtags have the advantage of linking those of common interests about a specific topic or event. With the wealth of information available, it’s crucial to be able to narrow down the scope and save time. It also limits its character to 140 making, so the reader gets the condensed version of whatever is being said. The same applies to Instagram that has benefitted from hashtags and made it easier to navigate its massive social media platform. Hashtags have taken on a life of their own and they are used as part of the daily life instead of being restricted to the Internet. Businesses have also benefitted by being able to amplify their message and exhibit their services and products in a way unperceived before. It used to be that companies had to pump anywhere between thousands to millions for their advertisements depending on their sizes, but nowadays even the smallest company can launch their business to the world with much speed and plenty of ease. So in a sense, it is empowering the small businesses that have almost been engulfed by multinational organizations.
But how does it manage to bring out the worst in us? Let’s start off by the portrayal of our vanities better known as the selfies. Just how many duck faces can a human being possibly take? As it turns out, the answer is millions. It’s not just about the mundane images of guys at the gym or girls showing off their bikini bodies. It has become a social disease where people take pictures in the most inappropriate instances such as funerals. It lacks the common decency and respect for solemn occasions. Furthermore, some people even take selfies when they are doing dangerous activities such as mountain climbing or riding water rapids. Plenty of people have died to try to capture the thrill of the moment to document it. These often inappropriate and offensive images invariably find their way to social media because of an insatiable need for exhibition. Everyone wants to be recognized in the eyes of the world and shares all the highlights –while simultaneously hiding the downsides- to appear the sophisticated and urban. Some of those ill-timed selfies have managed to compromise the personal and professional lives of many. Another disastrous offering social media gave was the blessing of anonymity. People do not have to expose their identity, so they have the freedom to spew all sorts of hateful things they want. There is no censure for anything that is being said and no shaming for some of the nastiest ideas. People will bully each other mercilessly with comments that cut deep. They attack the opinions and life choices of others including political views and sexual orientations. Plenty of friendships have ended after heated debates online about commonplace issues. These things tend to escalate very fast because the physical connection is missing. It’s very difficult to be as aggressive and candid with the person sitting face-to-face to you, but when they are nothing but words on the monitor, it’s easier to give in to the baser desire to hound them and unleash all the pent-up frustration that stems from an over-inflated self-importance due to the delusional sense of grandeur that social media provides. People believe they are knowledgeable because they have read one tidbit or another. Sadly, they do not even take the time to thoroughly read these articles and end up misinterpreting everything that’s there. Just because someone has read (and most likely skimmed) through a few posts does not make one an expert. Furthermore, people are becoming all talk and no action. They rely on posting things and regard that as some sort of activism. And while it’s true that spreading the word about an important issue will bring it into the spotlight, it will not be enough. No change will happen in real life unless these people go into the streets and exert pressure on the government. They have to become active in the voting booths to wield a real change. So instead of hashtagging support, it would be best that those advocates take real steps towards exerting a change.
Social media is a blessing no matter how one chooses to look at it. What it has managed to do goes beyond what even the most avid science fiction enthusiasts could have dreamed of a few decades before. Just because a tool is abused is no reason to go after said tool and discredit it. What should be targeted are the underlying reasons and causative forces that lead to the abuse in the first place. Otherwise, humanity will be sacrificing its progress for naught but the hallow lamentations of its baser groups.