Social media is absolutely everywhere. It’s gotten to the point now where you are a societal outsider if you don’t have an account in any form, and it dominates our lives. Yet, despite the fact that social media is a continuously growing outlet with many benefits, I think it is beginning to be problematic for our self-growth. Of course this will be a hypocritical post as I use social media, but recently I can’t help but think we’re moving away from fully utilising it.
Perhaps the biggest problem (and asset) with social media is the pace of it. It is a very fast moving form of communication and through this it can blur our understanding of just how powerful words can be: we don’t think before we type. There is such time pressure to get a thought or picture out there before it is ‘old news’ that often what is said can be incorrect or damaging. This happens all the time, where people see a trending topic and try to fit their whole, complex opinion into 140 characters. An example of this is with the recent Ched Evans retrial verdict, where his original ‘guilty’ verdict was overturned. Many social media users tried to squeeze such a huge issue into a small sentence and this led to a lot of people assuming that ‘not guilty’ means ‘the victim lied’: a completely false connection to make but one that was emphasised non-stop after the verdict was announced. With social media, it is easier to take what we see on our newsfeed rather than take a step back and process the information independently and more in depth.
Social media is often guilty of ‘dumbing us down’ too: our judgment of important issues is clouded now. Although it can be a great place for the discussion of current affairs and a wide array of opinions, it also makes us think and obsess about silly things. A crucial example is the current US Presidential election. After the second televised debate, the trending topic for the next few days was predominantly Ken Bone (an audience member who asked one question and wore a red sweater). This minor thing was enough to distract us from the key points of the debate itself, which is what people should have been talking about. This emphasises how problematic social media can be – a current affair as significant as the US Presidential debate was so easily trivialised by a man in a red sweater.
Finally, I think social media makes us lazy. We think that simply ‘retweeting’ or ‘liking’ a post about a problem does any good. However, I will say that social media has also massively helped the shift in what it means to be an activist, particularly by ‘hashtags’ and the way in which we can inform ourselves on current affairs. Yet, simply talking about a problem is not enough. Here, Brexit is a great example. I doubt there was a single young person on social media who didn’t talk about the referendum, and yet it turned out that only half of registered 18-25 voters actually voted, meaning that a vast amount of people talking about it believed this was enough to help the issue. When this statistic was revealed, people again turned to social media to voice their outrage. My point is that by using our screens as leverage to show our support, it can be easy to think our job is done. No matter how powerful the internet is, our real-life actions will always be stronger, and I think this is forgotten with the ease of social media involving us in worldly issues.
Despite all of this, I don’t think social media is completely flawed and useless; in fact, I think the majority of its’ uses are helpful and I am reliant on it to keep up with current affairs and share my opinions. However, I do think that such reliance can be worrying when used in ways that do not help us, and that the issues I have highlighted show why it isn’t always a great thing to turn to social media before all else.