HFS Info Hub: The Advantages And Disadvantages Of Social Media
Social media has only really been around in its current shape and form over the last 10 years or so, but we’ve seen how quickly it has become a central part of daily life and the impact it has on the way we live, but what are the advantages and disadvantages of social media?
It has an impact on how we deal with things, how we look for job opportunities, consume and produce art, how we connect with people, and how we relax.
For those moving to university, social media can act as a fast and easy way to meet new people and integrate into a new environment.
The world is a much smaller place because of social media, but this can be seen in both a positive and a negative way.
Do we need to consider the content that we share and the consequences that our actions online can have for us personally but also on the mental health and general welfare of others online?
Social Media In The Modern Age
Social media platforms are such an integral part of our lives now that there is no getting away from them, even if we wanted to.
Socialising on Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and TikTok, amongst others, has become something that is instinctive and for the younger people who have known nothing else, using multiple platforms is just the norm, the thing to do.
It is hard to imagine a life without social media, scrolling on our phones constantly, and using it to reach out to other people.
Alongside the ‘fun’ social media apps, there are also professional platforms, such as LinkedIn that students might be starting to consider when in university and looking at a future career.
There’s also the use of Google Hangouts, Microsoft Teams, and other online portals that have been used more extensively during lockdown for online teaching and are often used in professional settings to manage projects on a daily basis.
Social media has drastically changed the way that the world functions for younger millennials and generation Z kids. There are advantages and disadvantages to social media, of course, so let’s dig in.
The Pros Of Social Media
When looking at social media through a positive lens there is a lot to excite.
On a functional level, it has completely transformed the way that we look at communication.
We can now video chat with friends and family members on the opposite side of the world, keep up-to-date with online trends and breaking news, find specialised groups of like-minded people to engage with, and become more ingrained in how we feel about certain cultural items that we love.
Engaging on social media has helped introverted and anxious young people to find their voice, to have that safe platform where they can express themselves without fear of humiliation, bullying, or other forms of abuse in person.
It encourages people to seek out new skills, to learn new things and to learn how to multitask and function in the world.
Generation Z in particular uses social media for everything, where to shop, what to listen to, which voices inspire both culturally and politically, how to build personal brands, and how to find jobs and future employment opportunities.
The Cons Of Social Media
There are some negative aspects of social media that are hard to ignore though. On a basic level, it is very easy to allow it to become all time-consuming.
You are constantly checking your phone for the latest news, to see if you’ve had any notifications.
It’s important to be wary of people potentially scamming you, of online trolls and harassment, and that this way of communicating online can have a detrimental impact on how you communicate in person.
This will always be a crucial part of our development as we move into adulthood.
We know that there are always external pressures on young people to ‘fit in’ and be like the wider crowd.
This has been the case for as long as there have been communities, but with social media, there is a bombardment of content from all angles and it can be difficult to feel that you are matching up to what the perception of good, fit, healthy, funny, etc.
Excessive use of social media can lead to and exacerbate issues of low self-esteem, anxiety, and depression.
Alongside these, there is also a worry about privacy issues and speaking to people online that may not be who they say they are.
Pressure From Brands And On Wider Society
Facebook in particular has had a massive influence on millennials, with other platforms now more popular with generation Z.
We’ve seen in recent years how Facebook has been involved with targeting and influencing people on how they vote.
The Brexit referendum and the last two US presidential elections have been clear demonstrations of this.
On a daily level, brand advertisement and digital marketing have been used to take advantage of people’s use of social media to influence them into buying products and services.
There is a huge percentage of teenagers that will buy a product after they have seen it on Instagram or Facebook.
Addicted To The Notification Hit
For many people, there is a sense of panic and existential crisis when they misplace their phone.
Some people decide to leave their phone at home to go out for a walk, or those who stay off social media full time, and say how freeing it is to not constantly be looking at their phone and scrolling through social media for the latest news or the big pictures from their favourite celebrity.
If you check your phone settings to see how much screen time you have on average every day, you’d probably be shocked.
There is even a phenomenon where you feel your phone vibrating in your pocket, even if it isn’t there.
We are so used to (and now wired) to checking our phones on a regular basis for the latest update. Social media platforms have made it a game to check for notifications.
If you post a photo online, you are doing so expecting to get likes and comments. The more likes and comments you receive, the better you feel. This dopamine hit is just the same as we experience after eating tasty food or after exercise and rewards us for beneficial behaviours.
The great feeling we get when we receive a notification is brilliant the first time, but it will only ever provide diminishing returns.
On top of that, you’ll be expecting constant likes and if you don’t receive them right away, or you only receive 49 likes instead of yesterday’s 50 likes on an old post, it can become disheartening and worsen your mental health.
Seeking the dopamine hit of the latest notification leads us to sleep less, work less, interact with people physically on fewer occasions and it can have a huge impact on all aspects of our lives.
Staying Connected With Social Media
On a positive note, social media has helped to make the world a much smaller place than it was even a decade ago.
We can keep in touch with friends and family members that live in different parts of the country or abroad.
It allows us to stay up-to-date with our favourite artists in far-flung places, keep an eye on our favourite sports teams and to interact with other people that have similar interests as us.
This can only be seen as a positive. If you are into something quite niche that none of your friends really understand, you can join groups on social media that allow you to explore that world further.
Staying connected on social media also helps in situations where there is a cultural or national crisis and can be used to join people together in a good cause.
On smaller, individual levels, this can be seen with charity promotions where a single person might want to raise money for a cause close to their heart.
On a larger scale, social media has been used to plan and organise peaceful protests the world over, as we have seen in the last year especially with the Black Lives Matter protests and how Twitter was effective in bringing together opposition and protest in Iran, Egypt and other countries where freedom of speech was not guaranteed.
Trolling On Social Media
Trolling on social media is where off-topic messages and insulting messages are directed to direct individuals or groups with the intent of annoying and harming them.
A social media troll might post something deliberately inflammatory and controversial with the intent of winding other people up and starting an argument that then builds into something more dramatic.
Think about the comments thread on every single YouTube video and you’ll have some idea of what trolling is all about.
Even if it is just a single comment that says, “this video is stupid” when you add the tens, hundreds, or even thousands of similar comments, it can have a profound impact on how the original poster feels.
Anonymity On Social Media
In terms of advantages and disadvantages of social media, trolls lead onto online harassment and anonymity as a concept online.
We see cases of online racist abuse, homophobic abuse and other forms of online hate speech on an almost daily basis.
It is very upsetting to think that it is so prevalent, and what makes less sense is that it so often feels like there is no way to stop it from happening.
Indeed, there have been cases of online abuse directed at black sportspeople in recent times where there has been no legal consequence for the person sending the racist messages.
This is happening to ‘normal’ people on a daily basis too, and there has to be questions asked and constructive conversation about how to move things forward in a positive way.
There have been calls in some quarters for a ‘track a troll’ system to be implemented, eliminating anonymity online and ensuring that any person who posts hate speech and abuse of any kind will be doing so under their own name.
Although commendable as a starting idea, this is problematic in itself for a few reasons.
As mentioned in the previous section, anonymity definitely goes both ways as a negative and a positive.
As a way of bringing people together at times of protest in countries where there is no freedom of speech, anonymity on social media platforms allows for protest and peaceful political agitation without endangering the lives of those posting and their families.
For many people, social media platforms have provided a safe space where they can explore their identity and find like-minded people without fear of reprisals, which has been an amazing help to the progress of the LGBTQ+ community.
Those in danger of abuse at home have found spaces to talk anonymously and find help.
Are You For Or Against Social Media?
Social media has been a fantastic way for people to promote their brand and to further their own careers, to interact with and create art and music, film and wider culture.
It has provided us with a simple and effective way to stay connected with our loved ones (especially helpful during the pandemic, lockdown and travel restrictions), but there are some clear drawbacks.
Internet trolls have exacerbated mental health problems for many people and the fact that information and opinion is now instant and available to absolutely everybody does seem to have created a toxic environment that is incredibly hard to escape.
Looking at the advantages and disadvantages of social media on the whole, do you think that it has generally been a good or a bad thing?
Whatever your thoughts social media is here to stay, and we are likely to see different platforms and the evolution of how we interact over the coming years and decades.
Now we need to learn how to improve the platform to make it as positive as possible and to limit the negative aspects of social media.