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Social Media-A Double-edged Sword


Social Media- A Double-edged Sword 

We need to guard against the negative impact of the social media, which ought to be used in the correct manner for creative or productive purposes so that it is progressive to mankind and society at large, rather than regressive

The term social media is being used quite often by everyone and has become a popular topic of conversation, debates and controversies. Contrary to popular belief and perceptions of the general public, social media is not just restricted to sites like Facebook and Twitter. Social media, in fact, encompasses all the web services that facilitate creation, sharing and exchange of user-generated content. These include but are not restricted to Internet forums, groups, blogs, microblogs, networking sites, social bookmarking sites, wikis, podcasts, content communities for articles, video/photo sharing sites, Q & A sites, review sites and so on and so forth, the list is endless. The number of people accessing and using the social media is increasing exponentially day by day. But how many of us truly understand what social media is and the effect it has on people as individuals and the society at large. 

The overall benefits, positive effects or the wide scope of usage of the social media are limitless. It has become quite evident, and proved beyond doubt, that the social media is a very powerful tool that, if used in the correct manner, can bring about tremendous changes in any facet of life and be beneficial to mankind in multiple ways.  

Businesses have understood this potential of the social media and are using it effectively for various purposes that include marketing, customer relations, supply chain management, engaging their customers and providing useful information about the business and details about their products or services through websites and blogs. Interacting directly with the customers not only generates loyalty but also gets the kind of feedback that they need to improve their products or services. 

Individuals are using the social media in their own different ways to interact and connect with people, get in touch with old friends, share media files / content / documents, personal views, opinions, comments and even personal photos on social networking sites with likeminded people / communities / groups.  

Making the accessibility to social media even easier, today’s smart phones are integrated with the most popular networking sites and also offer popular free apps that can be downloaded easily to chat, message, upload photos and videos that can be shared instantly online with friends or contacts, making it much more easier to stay connected and updated on the latest happenings. Also, since most smart phones are economically priced, it is easily affordable for a large segment of population.  

Today, students of school and college can use the social media to their advantage in many different ways. In fact, due to the advancement in technology, it has become important for each and every student to know how to use the technology effectively and be well versed with all aspects of it since more and more employers are beginning to check the social media background of a potential employee. Thus, knowledge and proper utilisation of the social media gives the student an edge over others in the market. They can use the social networking sites to connect with people from their study or work group and interact with peers or teachers directly. By using the Internet for academic purposes, students learn much more than they can in a classroom and their ability to assess, analyse, retain and share information improves dramatically.

Perhaps the biggest positive impact of the social media has been in its ability to mobilize and get support from the masses towards various social causes all over the world. The “Arab Spring” is a case in point where the social media was used effectively to organise, communicate and raise awareness in the face of state attempts at repression and Internet Censorship. This wave has resulted in overthrowing the incumbent regimes from Tunisia, Libya, Yemen and Egypt. Indian social activist, Anna Hazare used the social media effectively to organise and gather support from the masses to protest against corruption and to get the government to pass an anti-corruption Bill in the parliament. Thus the true potential and the power of the social media to bring about political changes and revolutions came to light. 

Negative aspects of social media 

However, every coin has two sides, the good and the bad. Similarly, the social media is also a two-edged sword. Where there are so many positive aspects to the social media, there are bound to be negative aspects as well. Probably the most worrying aspect to the social media is the fact that it cannot be controlled and therefore it goes without saying that its consequences can also be dangerous and uncontrollable for all those who use it recklessly and in an irresponsible manner. It is said that, unless you take control of social media, you risk social media taking control of you.”  

The very nature of social media, providing the prospect of enhanced social interaction, presents an opportunity for the user to speak up and be heard without being interrupted, thereby making social media seem interesting and addictive at the same time. This is what lures people into embracing the social networking with a vigour. However, the continued activity on social media has its own pitfalls, which may not be evident, and we as a society need to be wary of the impact these can have on individuals in particular and society in general. 

Communication and Relationships 

Social media and networking sites have changed the way we communicate with each other. On one hand, social media has expanded a person’s reach and enabled faster and cheaper communication; on the other hand, these same channels of communication are killing “real” communication between people.  

The obsession to stay updated, coupled with lack of time has resulted in many people using these networking sites to look for faster ways of conveying their message. So it is common now to find sentences filled with an array of acronyms and emoticons. Microblogging sites like Twitter have restricted number of characters that can be posted in the status, as a result of which, people have to come up with innovative ways to express themselves using as few words / characters as possible. Now, a general trend that is observed is the way people just cannot seem to express their thoughts or expressions in the form of complete sentences. Thus affecting the language skills in various people, especially children. 

Ever since the networking apps started appearing on mobile phones, the time one would spend on social media has also gone up with people checking their accounts frequently. In essence, the social media in combination with the mobile technology has made the communications and relationships also virtual. They are there, but still not there. There is no real meaningful communications taking place, just an acknowledgement to the other’s presence. This culture has also moved on to the households and playgrounds.  

As a result of this phenomenon of over-communication with people online and on networking sites, we are slowly drifting away from “real” interactions with people and becoming isolated within us and are perpetually living in a virtual world. The ease with which we can connect with everyone online can give us a false sense of intimacy of the true relationship with those people. We may think that the digital relationships so formed are more intense, committed and complete than they really are. Thus we run the risk of alienating the very people who surround us in our daily life in pursuit of intimacy with our online friends. 

Several studies have also shown that our online interactions can have a direct impact on our moods and thereby on our behaviour with other people. The social media moodiness will have an immediate effect on our behaviour or response to those around us, thereby indirectly affecting the relationships. 

Psychological Aspects

Several studies are now bringing out the narcissistic effect of social media Apparently, there is a rise of narcissism amongst the generation born in the 1980s and 1990s, controversially dubbed as “Generation Me” by Professor Jean M. Twenge in 2007. In fact, over the last couple of years, extensive research has shown positive connections between Facebook and narcissism. This may stem from the way people use Facebook to look important, look special, gain attention, status and self-esteem, thus presenting an unrealistic portrait of themselves. These people can be identified easily as the ones who post numerous attractive looking photos of themselves, then tag themselves and others in the photo to gain attention, likes and comments, and also update their statuses more frequently. This aspect gives rise to voyeurism. Recently, a psychology paper (published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences) found increasing evidence that young people are becoming increasingly narcissistic, and obsessed with selfimage and shallow friendships. All individuals who are dependant on the social media are so because they receive some sort of self gratification, which soon becomes addictive.  

Frequent networking on sites like Facebook could also generate negative feelings like inadequacy, envy, jealousy or even aggressive behaviour due to constant comparison with their own colleagues /friends or peers who always “appear” to be better off.  Facebook is flooded with photos of people looking very happy with life, partying with their long lost friends or families, travelling to exotic destinations, or simply showing off their riches in the form of pictures of their flashy cars, stylish homes or yachts etc. Women, who are slim and know they look good, post pictures of themselves in stunning outfits. All these facts are bound to have some kind of psychological impact on others who feel that they are “lesser” or inadequate in some manner or the other. These comparisons can make our successes feel diminished and our failures amplified. 

There is also the effect of “peer” pressure when it comes to being active on social media sites. Some people logon to these sites only due to the fear of “losing out” on the latest happenings within their circle of friends. For, if you do not keep in touch then you may end up being isolated from the group, become outcast and find yourself lonely. Thus, social media is soon becoming a “drug” of choice among the school and college going crowd.  

Constant networking can cause distractions, especially for children and college students who find it difficult to pay attention to their academics and therefore end up getting lower grades. Also, spending long hours in front of the computer or with electronic devices can cause serious health problems, strain the eyes and also causes the person to get lethargic. Keeping awake late nights can lead to sleep deprivation and physical stress and fatigue. This also results in a lack of concentration or ability to focus and or prioritise important issues in their daily lives. 

As pointed out earlier, smart phones integrated with camera/video and networking features allows people to capture photos / videos and instantly share them via email, messaging services, bluetooth or by directly uploading them on several networking sites in one go. Some people may not think twice before they upload photos taken at a wild party or at private social gatherings, but it may turn out to be embarrassing for another person. The same can be said for videos and or mms recorded on mobile devices that could be misused by anyone for the wrong reasons. Needless to say, such actions could have disastrous consequences. Recently, there were news reports of nude photos of the Royal couple (Prince Williams and Kate Middleton) that were uploaded on Facebook, YouTube and many other sites on the Internet. This is just an example of how this media can be misused by others.  

Safety Considerations

A serious drawback to these kind of free communication channels that are open to one and all comes in the form of cyber bullying. Unfortunately, this is becoming a common trend among teenagers on social networking sites. Calling names, ridiculing, making fun of people and using abusive language has become commonplace. This form of cyber bullying can have dangerous consequences, if left unchecked, as has been proven many times where young children have committed suicide on account of such incidents. 

Social media also promotes anonymity, albeit unintentionally. Hiding behind a fake name or remaining anonymous gives people a bolder online persona than they would otherwise have in their normal face-to-face relationships with people. Some of these people have criminal intentions and may be looking for “gullible” people online whom they could lure into their web of deceit. They could use your personal data or information and even photos for dubious purposes. There are often sexual predators lurking behind fake identities that try to lure young innocent adolescents or even kids to satisfy their perverse desires.  

Most networking sites do not really protect an individual’s privacy. A simple example is that of photos being posted on such sites without taking permission from all the people concerned. Is it legal to do that? Some people may feel that it’s okay, since it’s being done just for fun or to get a few laughs. In the year 2010, a 22-year old guy named Messy Mya was shot dead around 8 PM as he was returning from his girl friend’s baby shower. Messy Mya was a New Orleans YouTube sensation known for being humorous while ridiculing random people in the New Orleans area. Insult was added to injury when an onlooker posted the picture of his body on Twitter raising a huge uproar and controversy. 

Reliability of Content 

Everyone is free to post any kind of content on the social media. There is no authenticity of the data posted nor can everything be taken on its face value. People are generally very generous when it comes to sharing content within their network without verifying the veracity of the data therein. The information could be related to health, medicine, religion etc and could end up harming someone or hurting someone’s sentiments. Unchecked sharing spreads misinformation as fast as the speed of light since people tend to believe anything sent by a connection/friend. 

Social Media, with all its benefits and the potential for more, is definitely a boon to our world, however misuse or irresponsible usage can have negative affects on individuals and society, especially the young impressionable minds. We need to guard against the negative impact of the social media, which ought to be used in the correct manner for creative or productive purposes so that it is progressive to mankind and society at large, rather than regressive.  

Varinder Taprial & Priya Kanwar :The authors have jointly authored a book on social media.


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