Like it or not, social media is almost impossible to avoid. A site called SixDegrees is credited as being one of the first manifestations of social networking with a lifespan from 1997 to 2000 and boasted a user-base of up 3.5 million in its heyday. Then came Friendster, numerous blogging platforms, LinkedIn, Myspace, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Snapchat, Vine, Periscope, Instagram, TikTok, and a whole host of other platforms varying in popularity.
Regardless of your opinions on social media, it has become one of the main driving forces behind our society, identifying and growing trends, opening up lines of connection, and generally changing how we receive information. According to this chart on Statista.com, 2.62 billion people used social media channels worldwide in 2018, almost 244 million of those are in the United States. For reference, Google says the united states has 372.2 million people. This means the current generation of students will likely not know a world without the uber-connectivity that social networking provides. It’s our responsibility as parents, educators, and role models to understand the good, the bad, and the ugly that social media brings with it.
Connectivity and easy access to information can be a wonderful thing. Seeing pictures of your friends and family, their dogs, their kids, their vacations can be really rewarding. It’s easier than ever to remain connected with old college, or earlier school friends, neighbors, old crushes, and other people who you want to connect with. It’s also a great way to connect with other people in similar life-stages or with similar interests, i.e. parenting groups or fellow dog lovers. And it can be a great source of inspiration. There are so many original content creators sharing their work, whether it’s design or comedy or music, it seems like the internet is drawn to talented people and enjoys highlighting them.
There is a lot of value and joy to be found on social media channels, but with that comes some negatives and dangers.
Another thing that’s almost impossible to ignore is the privacy concerns that come with social media. Those user agreements are usually chocked full of language that gives these outlets access to your private information, internet history and default to tracking your location unless you turn that off. News outlets have published stories about these social media giants selling private information to large retail companies and some of the ad algorithms are downright scary. Are they listening to everything we say? They say no, but everyone these days has a story about getting an ad based on a conversation they had with friends instead of internet search history.
Another thing we’ve got to bring up is the rise of fake news and propaganda that is so freely shared around. Few people do their due diligence when sharing an article, picture, infographic, or video. I’ll use a hopefully non-confrontational example. I saw a lot of videos with angry comments after the New Orleans Saints defeated the Carolina Panthers back in December that Cam Newton, Quarterback for the Panthers, didn’t shake Drew Brees’ hand after the game and shoulder-bumped him instead. What the video didn’t show is the handshake and words of affirmation that took place right before the “bump.”
We all, as a social media using people, need to make sure we aren’t helping spread fake news and dissent because my next point is about the toxicity that social media has brought with it.
Honestly, this one is difficult to write about, mainly because there are so many topics to address. Go to any local news Facebook page and you’ll find, um…very opinionated people. Twitter has seen rises in hate speech and threatening messages the past few years. YouTube comments are notoriously filled with people saying terrible things behind the mask of anonymity. Social Media also has given rise to cyber bullies, sexual predators, and hate speech. The scary part of that is that people as young as 13 are allowed to use these platforms. The scarier part is that it’s pretty easy to lie about how old you are when you sign up, so children even younger are potentially being exposed to the worst this world has to offer.
The sad fact is that there are predators roaming around on apps like TikTok and Snapchat that are popular among children and teens. There is a disturbing trend of people encouraging self-harm, requesting sexually explicit photos, and bullying across all platforms, but children are especially susceptible to these predators.
Social media is a part of our lives and probably won’t be going away anytime soon. And while there are many dangers of using it, there are a lot of benefits as well. And the fact is that it’s a part of kids everyday lives means we need to know how to guide them in staying safe online. While it may seem doomy and gloomy out there, there are a lot of wonderful people posting wonderful things and there’s a lot of encouragement and fun to be had.
Stay safe out there.