About 2.3 billion people now have social media accounts, with 1.71 billion active users on Facebook only. Somehow, this has become our main community online. Yet, that also means we have carried forward our negative values there. Chances are you received comments full of illogical fallacies and name calling on Facebook. User comments on Youtube are also full of grammatical errors and misogynist remarks. Memes, while funny, are used excessively on Facebook and other social media sites. The lack of empathy aside, there is a troubling sense of cognitive dissonance and a lack of critical thinking in these communities.
That said, irresponsible use of social media is heading us in the wrong direction.
It also does not help that social media shows how bad mob mentality is at this point. Some even do not bother reading the main issue at all, for the sake of dropping acidic remarks. Validity of one’s point is measured by the number of likes. Cyberbullying has become a daily occurrence and it has only worsen since the internet age. Victim blaming is, unfortunately, the most recurring theme in these instances. You have already seen screenshots of someone else’s status and how people poke mockery, all on the expense of the poor user. A disturbing report by Ditch the Label states that 9 out of 10 teen Facebook users have experienced bullying. Twitter isn’t much better either, since about 15,000 tweets related to bullying are sent daily.
Others throw off-tangent remarks for the sake of ill-timed humor or for fishing likes. You don’t have to go too far to witness the new level of lows in social media. For instance, simply look at the US Presidential debates and you will get what I mean. Uninformed rants, malicious comments and a few logical ones are all you can find in a typical social media comment thread. Of course, bailing out is an option, if you are still not too addicted.
Can you survive a day without checking updates on your social media account? A study from Maryland University made an experiment where volunteers were tasked not to open their phones for 24 hours. For the results? The subjects experienced panic, state of blankness and distraction. Yes, these symptoms are eerily similar to those experienced when in withdrawal from substance use.
The Curse of Multitasking
Heavy use of social networks is also making us distracted, according to Howard Rheingold, a Lecturer on Virtual Community and Social Media at Stanford. He cited a Pew Internet and American Life survey, with the result that one out of six Americans bumped into someone or something when using a smartphone. This contradicts the notion that multitasking is a good thing.
Unfortunately, we are creating bigger problems with this long-held belief. Actually, our attention span gets shorter and we began to lose our empathy and the ability to analyse. Post anything with more than 150 characters and people think your post is overly long, for instance.
Also, it turns out that we’re not that good at multitasking as we like to believe. Dr. Clifford Nass, from Stanford, studied how humans interact with technology and discovered that, in fact, when juggling different tasks, our productivity and the quality of our output suffers. On that note, the United Kingdom losses GBP 2.2 billion annually, just because people stay on Facebook during office hours.
The Illusion of Escapism
Perhaps Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are good means of escaping real world problems. Or that’s what some people feel, anyway.
However, what’s really disturbing, too much use of these social networks may cause depression in the long run. The University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine conducted a study about the effects of social media on one’s behavior. They found out there is a positive relationship between depression and time spent on social media. Over 1,800 people aging 18–32 participated in the said study. Results showed that a quarter of them have high indicators of depression. Viewed positively, this is also correlated with a higher level of spending. Our tendency is to buy something to compensate this feeling of inadequacy.
Interestingly, studies revealed that our collective Intelligence Quotient (IQ) is rising through time. Despite the numerous dumb remarks in social media, we are getting smarter. Perhaps this is a case of cognitive dissonance. There is a disconnection between your online persona and your real self. It occurs when there are two incompatible beliefs you agree on. For example, you are compelled to throw rude comments against same sex marriage, even if you are really courteous in person.
Then…should we quit social media?
The quick answer is no. It is a fact that online interaction is now an integral part of our daily lives. About 92% of American teens have access to this platform, according to Pew Research Center. Our ancestors could only wish they met people like we currently do. In addition, there are topics we can never discuss personally, so there goes a point to the blessing of online anonymity. Digital forums have become just as real as the real ones. Personally, I have an equal number of close friends in real life and online. Developing deep relationships on the internet is possible. Also, business owners find social media indispensable to promote their respective products.
Creating a social media account is not a must. If you don’t find it valuable, simply deactivate it or do not bother having one at all. Are you hoping to advertise your new product to the populace? Yes, tapping Facebook or Instagram as a marketing channels certainly helps. If you can find more effective ways to promote your product, simply spend time there. Social media networks are just means, they’re not the ends. You will also encounter less rude commentators, by putting this option in the sidelines.
Clicking unfollow, unfriend or report is also easy to do. With the heat of US elections at its peak, you will likely see more tweets or Facebook statuses about this subject. If it’s not of interest to you, simply choose to hide or not see such posts. Also, if you want to live a stress-free online life, it does not make sense to compare your life with the ‘selected’ photos of your online friends. People have the tendency to present the best version of themselves online. The 1% of their lives should not be a barometer for your worth.
It is understandable that we live in a wired world, where we can easily find anything by using a search engine. The internet is gradually changing our views on social interaction. Facebook, Instagram and Twitter will still be here, at least for the near future. Ultimately, it always pays to think twice before you post your latest status or tweet.