Symposium 2015: Has social media’s impact on society and the world done more good or more harm?

Sheffield, Jamaica Correspondent-Social media is the ultimate news platform. Whatever information you can think about collecting, social media is the aggregator. Exerting such power, it’s not surprising people of various socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds flock to social media, to find what they want. The innovation of the #hashtag has made it even more seamless for people to discover what they want. With a simple search, they have information right at their fingertips.

Though social media has seemingly drawn people closer together and has lessened costs of communication, has it done more harm than good? Absolutely! Though social media has made it easier for people to keep in touch, it has driven people apart. People are more inclined to communicate behind a computer. They’re actually strangers in real-time. Additionally, it tears the family apart. As a consequence of social media, teenagers no longer find it necessary to open up to their parents. Instead, they take solace in opening up to complete strangers.

Social media is also an avenue through which people are cyber-bullied, stalked and even raped. Anyone can put up a fake profile, pretending to be someone their not, just to lure people into a trap. Social media is also time-consuming. People spend countless hours online that they neglect important things. Instead of building the society and extensively the family, social media tears it down. It does more harm than good. People need to revert to the former standards of society.

 

Gastonia, NC Correspondent-If you’re a Facebook junkie like me (yes, at age 47 I’m a social media maven), you can’t scroll through your newsfeed without seeing GoFundMe accounts for friends, friends of friends and vaguely recognized third parties asking to raise money for everything from medical bills to tuition to housing expenses.  This is just one facet of the way that social media has allowed those with compassionate hearts to extend a hand to those in need whose challenges they might otherwise have never known about.

However, because humans are a deceitful bunch, it’s also become a way for scam artists to spin sob stories to get well-meaning rubes to give money to fake causes.  The stories cross my desk every day of hucksters setting up fake online donation buckets when tragedy strikes a community.  When a school bus full of kids goes off a cliff, who would dare be perfidious enough to seek to profit from the horror and heartbreak the families and friends experience?  Lots of people, I’m sad (but not surprised) to say.

And therein lies what is to me the single biggest issue at the heart of social media: vetting.  In order to become a tax-exempt charity, there are strict rules that organizations must follow, and while there have been issues in the last few years concerning the obscene salaries of some of the top bosses at the United Way and others, at least a good portion of the money they take in makes it to the intended recipients.

But to cast the net more broadly, vetting is an issue that’s even more critical when it comes to online journalism.  Sites like Breitbart and other agenda-driven “news” sites are the Weekly World News of the Internet Age.  They take single-sourced reports as gospel fact, and will accept even the flimsiest suggestion of a story as fact if it’s juicy enough and fits their worldview.  If they are criticized, they indignantly protest that they’re being targeted by the “mainstream media” and make it a First Amendment issue.

Facebook and Twitter allow these internet equivalents of the shouting wino on the corner a gigantic soapbox on which to stand.  With thousands or even millions of followers, their screeds and faux news shout down the more professional, thoroughly vetted, double- and triple-sourced news outlets.  What was rumor becomes fact, and actual facts become objects of dispute.

I’m not going to rule either way on this question, but I’m also not canceling my subscription to my local newspaper.

Prescott Valley, AZ Correspondent-In the 21st century, technology has advanced at a rapid pace and many people have found a positive way to harness the use of these advancements for business and communication. There are other less productive forms of communication that have taken root, especially in the last ten years. Social networking has rapidly become an everyday form of conversing with long lost friends and family and has turned into a substitute for the spoken word and physical interaction, without a lot of real thought provoking and productive conversation.  Social media has made a strong impact on society and the world and has done more harm than good, as it has become an oftentimes superficial and convenient substitute for dealing with the many societal, relational, and behavioral problems that exist in today’s world.

Countless social media followers have become quickly addicted to sites like Facebook and Twitter, which are among the most popular of social media.   Many are involved in this type of networking, which includes not only regular citizens, with their everyday comments, responses and picture postings that  broadcast their everyday actions to the world, but even political candidates, news organizations, businesses, charitable causes, and others have tapped into the Facebook and Twitter scene for various promotional reasons.   Businesses and outlets have obviously found a new way to capitalize on and attract the masses that are using social networking.  When there is a constant flow of information that is instantaneously accessed, the frenzy for more and more good and bad information is at a fever pitch.

The more negative aspect of an addiction to Facebook and Twitter is the loss of productivity in the workplace, and society as a whole.  Workers are either distracted at their jobs, or they are in their cars with smart phones that enable them to access Facebook and other sites, or they are texting and following an adored celebrity on Twitter.  Taking a peek at their favorite social media website on their workstation computers has also become a distraction as well as shopping websites.  Social media has also become a dangerous place for children and older kids because of sick minded perverts and stalkers posing as teenagers, as well as real time terrorists recruiting for volunteers for their dangerous and evil causes.   Unsuspecting kids have been coerced into meeting these twisted individuals thinking they are making a new friend or signing up for an exotic adventure in the Middle East.  In addition to interacting with someone never seen other than a posted picture,  those with personal Facebook pages have to be aware that monitoring by different organizations is occurring as to what is being  posted  in words and pictures,  what they are interested in, and what they are doing from dawn to dusk.   Spilling your guts, promoting your life story on a Facebook page, or twittering your every thought on controversial topics could be a dangerous routine, and there are law enforcement agencies that can scan social media information for threatening information, so posting private or questionable information has its risks.

Facebook, Twitter, My Space, and other “social websites,” along with computer games and smart phones, have created a generation of antisocial, self-centered and unaware younger people.  When younger adults are not on their computers, they are walking around with their heads bent down staring at a phone, or taking selfies with friends and finding their 15 minutes of fame through a posted video on You Tube, or somewhere else.   They are so glued to a device that nothing distracts them or interests them other than a mesmerizing phone and intermittent texting.  It is almost impossible for them to carry on normal conversations or interact in a socially engaging manner. This kind of behavior has set a dangerous precedent, as our current world is slowly ebbing away from one of interaction and dealing with others in a civil, intelligent, and meaningful manner.  These individuals texting and following Facebook can barely mutter the words, “Hi, how are you?”

Normal ways of communicating with others appear to be dwindling, and social media has become a replacement for dealing with various issues.  There are some advantages to social media in its immediacy, and access to others as well as business promotion, but the disadvantages are more far reaching.  Social media promotes a different set of standards and stimulates addiction to a running source of all types of consumerism without having to lift a finger.  The whole idea of social media just doesn’t jive with what is considered normal fare.  If Facebook, Twitter or My Space devotees want to avoid trouble, they should not take social media sites so seriously, but they do, and that’s to the detriment of themselves and society at large.

Owatanna, MN Correspondent-Free and open communication between everyone is the hallmark of peaceful, enlightened, democratic societies. On balance, social media has advanced that cause and has done more good than harm.

The civil uprising known as the Arab Spring is one of the best illustrations of how social media brought people together instantly to protest tyrannical governments across the northern Africa. Despite shutting off TV, newspapers, and radio to citizens, these governments couldn’t prevent social media like Twitter, Facebook, and email from keeping masses of people informed as to what was happening during protests and riots and government attempts to stifle these protests. It can be claimed that if not for social media, the Arab Spring might not have happened.

In the USA, groups like Black Lives Matter have used social media to organize protests across the country to advocate for changes in how law enforcement personnel deal with minority citizens. BLM has succeeded in putting racial profiling and the problem of white police officers dealing with black suspects into the forefront of the national news and debate over racism.

These are two of the best examples of the good social media has brought to the world lately. But the downsides of social media must be compared to see just how much net positive has come from these new forms of communication.

One particularly disturbing trend is injuries and death caused by distracted drivers who text or talk on cell phones. Even pedestrians are affected. The incidence of injury and death is rising to pedestrians who are electronically distracted in some way and don’t notice passing cars or obstacles in front of them.

Many other lives have been ruined or severely disrupted by improper sending of sexually explicit texts or pictures, a.k.a. sexting. Headlines are regularly seen about teens who end up as convicted sex offenders because they foolishly sexted to the wrong person at the wrong time.

Social media is a tool and as such is neutral. The ways humans employ social media can be good or harmful. Social media technology and use is still in its infancy. I hope we learn to use it wisely and mostly for good.

 Cartwright—I think that social media has, in fact, made us less social.  Kids and many adults are glued to their cell phones and are unable to carry on conversations or interact in social settings.  Look at how many people these days, particularly the youth of America, are socially awkward and socially inept.   Social media has certainly given relevance to people and events that have no relevance.  Do we really need to know that some unemployed bum living in his parents’ basement and playing video games had a sandwich at lunch, watched TV, smoked some dope, played more video games, and went to the bathroom?  Do we really care what some snot-nosed, self-centered, shithead kid who has done nothing in life, who knows nothing about life, and who knows nothing of the world thinks about anything?  Do we really care when some pathetic, bitter, critical liberal or right wing nut spews their hateful rhetoric?  Why give relevance to any of this?   People waste so much time on social media in the pursuit of nothing that I think it has really hurt American productivity.  I don’t think it’s going to get any better.  People seem obsessed with wasting time on trivial pursuits when it comes to social media.  In these regards, I think it has been bad for society. I think the only positive I see is as a means to connect with people who you may have lost touch with over the years.  It’s a convenient way to reconnect with these people, if you want to connect with them.  But I don’t think this really benefits society as a whole.  Has social media cured cancer or anything like that?  Nope.  Has it ended poverty in America?  Nope.  Has it increased the safety and security of America?  Nope.   On net, social media in my opinion is quite a waste.  No one seems to really be benefiting from it in any meaningful way.  It’s giving kids and some adults a false sense of security and a false sense of importance in the world.  I know people who have tens of thousands of followers on social media outlets but these followers don’t know the person in real life in most cases.  These followers aren’t there when the person they’re following needs a shoulder to cry on or needs a loan to buy gas money.  Let’s get real.  Social media just tries to “fluff” people and get them feeling good about themselves or feeling like their lives don’t suck so much.

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