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A Not So Social Media

Negative social media aspects have accumulated over the years as the platforms develop. But how can we change this?

negative social media
Photo by Firmbee.com

A new and never before seen online platform. We all choose a super-hard to guess password and unique username. It could just be your real name, but most opt for something a little more exciting involving a “queen.”, “_xo” or birth year. This platform is ultimately an alternate online world. And guess what? You’re the star of it. Well, on your personal device anyway.

With a display picture that you choose, a short bio of 150 words and some pictures and videos of basically anything (unlimited number, so knock yourself out); this page now represents you. This platform allows you to share pictures and videos of things as mentioned, connect with friends, like and comment on the posts of others, and share content that you find cool, funny or inspiring. It also gives you access to thousands, in fact millions of people you will likely never meet in your day to day life. 

Fool-proof right? Not exactly…

In the last 10 years, social media has adopted a significant role in many of our lives. Despite negative social media facets, advances in mobile technology have meant that we can do things we weren’t able to do 15 years ago and we can do them 10 times faster too. 

So, what are the pros of this virtual commodity we refer to as ‘Social Media’?

1. Connectivity 

As the name suggests, a main benefit of apps like Instagram and Facebook is the ‘social’ aspect. These apps exist to help people stay connected with each other despite physical distance. And this connectivity works because so long as you have access to somewhat stable internet access, you’re able to reach friends and families with just the click of a button. In recent years the interaction we have with the people around us has changed greatly.

Before, non face to face communication was limited to phone calls, letter writing and emails. We’re now able to stay in touch with others in less active and obvious ways, i.e. a comment on a picture here, a response to a story there, a re-share here, sending someone a tweet there. It’s like mini conversations here and there, which help keep those relationships intact in small ways.

 

2.Endless Entertainment 

Whether the entertainment is ‘endless’ or not is debatable, but after connectivity, entertainment is an obvious benefit of these apps. After all, if Twitter bored its users then no-one would use it. From meme pages to reels, to children doing funny things, dance trends, cooking videos and the like; social media definitely provides its fair share of entertainment. This is definitely one of the less negative social media aspects. Plus it’s varied and diverse nature means that there is always something for everyone, regardless of what your taste might be.

An example of a page that kept me entertained throughout lockdown was that of UK underground radio station, No Signal. Whilst playing the music of both upcoming and established artists, they took to Twitter posting polls, asking questions, making jokes and engaging with listeners whilst they listened from their houses. One of their most popular segments was called NS10v10, in which they played the songs of two artists alternately and got listeners to vote via Twitter on which they preferred. The buzz they created amongst listeners/Twitter users was unmatched and consequently they gained a hefty amount of exposure for themselves.

negative social media
Photo by Carol Magalhães

3. A platform for growth

Speaking of exposure, social media has proven to be an incredibly useful tool for small businesses, freelancers, creatives, artists and almost anyone who wants to either make an income or get noticed. Functions like re-sharing have given small business ounces of exposure, freelancers are finding work, fresh talent is getting attention, people have learnt to network digitally creating opportunities along the way and small brands have literally met customers through the likes of Facebook, Instagram etc. Win-win situation.

4. Social support

 Social support forms a big part of how social media has aided togetherness in times of crisis, loss or trauma. It has provided a sense of solidarity in times where the world mourned, take for example the death of George Floyd in May 2020. Communities all over the world rallied together to show support, fight for justice and take a stand against police brutality. 

A simple hashtag travelled millions of miles and despite physical distance, people bonded in their pain and took to social media to express this but also to find solutions to address the tragic events that took place and create space for change. Facebook groups are also a quiet but vital way everyday people connect on things that relate to them, offering advice, encouragement, practical tips but also a space to exist in harmony.

From mothers’ groups, to neighbourhood groups to even groups of people worldwide suffering from particular diseases or illnesses (e.g. breast cancer patients forming Facebook support groups to seek more information to manage their conditions), this function plays an essential part in the lives of users that they otherwise wouldn’t have.

 

Sadly, like with most things in life, there is a downside to this exciting, buzzing online world we have created for ourselves. At face value, social media offers nothing but a good time but it’s only after these apps peak that we begin to see the cracks in the works and notice the bits that maybe aren’t so healthy…

1. Time

It’s ironic that something meant to make us faster and better connected has the power to drastically slash productivity. According to Uswitch the average person in the UK generally spends about 6 hours using the internet daily, and 3 of those hours are spent on social media. Figures are even higher for Gen Z users who are averaging up to 9 hours in front of a screen. This extensive time spent on social media has detrimental impacts such as weight gain, reduced in-person social skills, significant drops in physical exercise and poorer sleeping habits. 

 

2. The comparison problem 

Since the dawn of social media we’ve had increasing amounts of access and visibility to the lives of others, both those we know and those we don’t know. Essentially, everyone and anyone. Having the level of visibility into the lives of other people only makes us super conscious of ourselves more and this can be very dangerous as we’re constantly comparing ourselves, our lifestyles, achievements and successes to strangers on the internet. This is definitely one of the negative social media aspects that affects people with the most intensity.

It’s natural to want to do better and to aim for certain milestones in life. However, seeing people post their achievements or even just flashy lifestyles everyday gives others, particularly young people, a false sense of feeling ‘behind’ like they should be doing or accomplishing more. And the worst part of it is that some of the accomplishments posted aren’t even real. It’s social media remember, where everyone has the creative freedom to display what they wish. The truth in all of the posts we see? Questionable.

negative social media
Photo by Jakob Owens

3. Fake News. No filter?

The crux of social media is sharing experiences through photos, videos and even just words. As individuals sharing what we please based on our own limited opinions and world views, it’s obvious that a lot of what is shared isn’t fact and is actually just someone’s opinion. And sometimes it’s difficult to differentiate between the two.

The ‘free for all’ nature of social media means when it comes to opinion sharing on more serious topics a lot of what is shared is

a) untrue and only shared to create noise around a topic and even sometimes to instil fear (fake news around healthcare is dangerously common) 

or b) inaccurate as those posting don’t have all the correct information therefore readers are mislead or receive biased or incomplete pieces of information. 

Both of these being equally as dangerous as the truth is obscured.

 

4. Hate Speech 

In a similar rite, the lack of ‘filters’ and censorship on these platforms have allowed room for discrimination, racism and general hate/negativity being shared – a highly negative social media trait. For years, this has been an issue on social media. Users share toxic, hurtful, discriminative and hateful things on social media platforms knowing they won’t have to take accountability for their words and more times than not the damage is done before these posts are taken down by authorities. 

There are functions to report such posts but how successful they are in tackling the issue and punishing this behaviour is questionable. For example, following the Euros 2021 Final in July where England lost to Italy after a penalty shootout, a number of users shared racist remarks about the 3 black players (Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka) who missed the penalties.

On the flipside, many other social media users rose to their defence, reporting and shaming the perpetrators and sharing messages of encouragement and appreciation. However, this does not take away from the issue at hand, for the everyday commoner who does not have the nation defending when something mean or racist is said to them on social media, it can have a real impact on them and ruin an online experience that should be enjoyable.

negative social media
Photo by dole777

So, what’s the answer? 

Being the smart humans that we are, when we come across issues we are prone to quickly and efficiently think up solutions. And there are a number of different solutions people have come up with to manage social media usage, getting the best out of these platforms whilst minimising the negative impacts that have crept up on us.

 

  • Taking time away from social media is a basic but great way to manage how much of an impact these platforms have on our mental and physical health. Naturally, as we sit and scroll and scroll and scroll… we are consuming a lot of information that we don’t always need and isn’t always helpful. By taking time off social media we give our minds a break from this for a given period. It also gives us a chance to think more consciously about what we want to consume. 

 

  • With the constant spread of online hate, some have had the idea that social media profiles should be linked to real life ID’s e.g. a passport, drivers’ license etc. in order to combat online abuse and so that those doing the abusing can no longer go anonymous using spam accounts and the like. This would bring a whole new level of accountability to social media and hopefully make people think more carefully about what they choose to share. Though not official yet very much still in thought, this may just be the reality in some years time.
  • Not to mention, a simple but often overlooked way to enhance the social media experience is to clean out your feed. In the same way we might spring clean, unfollowing pages that post content that we don’t feel enriches us can do wonders for our online experience. It’s almost impossible to completely police everything we see, but by making sure that the pages we do follow offer joy, laughs, genuine interest, motivation, inspiration and not passively consuming everything and anything, you are certain to have a better time using social media. 

 

  • From a physical standpoint using dark mode and blue light glasses are just two ways to protect our eyes from constant usage. Blue light glasses have specifically designed lenses to help to reduce the amount of blue light (a type of light typically emitted from digital screens) our eyes receive so we don’t end up with chronic headaches and 5/10 vision in 5 years time! 

 

We could all delete all our social media apps and go back to our primitive ways of communicating via phone calls, text messages and putting letters in bottles and releasing them into the ocean. But that would be boring. And it would be a waste of all the cool features and tech that we’ve come across over the last decade. We can only do the best we can to ensure that our usage of these apps remains healthy and that we fully utilise the benefits, managing the dangers to the best of our abilities. 

In the meantime, I’m making use of Instagram and Twitter while we have it and looking forward to what the future of social media may hold. Maybe in the next 20 years we’ll be communicating via hologram. Who knows.