This essay on why social media is bad is primarily for students. The intention is to use straightforward English and to describe the problems in a straightforward manner. They are mainly personal views. People should form their own views.
People the world over have embraced social media. They love it. They love the advantages that it brings. It allows them to communicate across borders on a multiplicity of subjects, to make friends and acquaintances and to explore other cultures. A lot of good comes out of social media. In the animal rescue world a lot of animals are successfully rescued with the assistance of social media and I am mainly referring to Facebook in this instance.
So let’s not forget the good that is in social media. We are now learning about what is bad with this rapidly developing phenomenon. The first problem that comes to mind is one elucidating by former president Barrack Obama. He says that social media can lead to the “balkanisation of our society”. That’s a big word but I think what he intends to mean is that it can polarise opinion. Social media can reinforce one’s biases because you migrate to those places where people praise you and agree with you – where you make Facebook friends and acquire Facebook “Likes” which are often meaningless. You are less likely to find common ground on the basic fundamentals of life. If social media does polarise society then it fragments it and creates a more hostile world.
Another point made by Barack Obama is that social media needs to be used wisely and harnessed. A lot of people use it, abused it and are used by it. The Internet giants such as Facebook collect data on the users of their website and use it both for and against the users in the interests of making a profit for Facebook. It is a form of ‘Big Brother’ as described by George Orwell in his novel “Nineteen Eighty-Four”. Ultimately Facebook is about turning a profit for its owners and shareholders. It is not a charity. When a company is heavily focused on making a profit the morality of the company can be distorted and the company can work against its users in a subtle way.
Facebook users can be directed towards adverts customised for them which can encourage users to do something that they would not normally do. Third parties are alleged to use Facebook to interfere with elections and to promote a hidden agenda. I’m referring to the allegation that the Russian government has interfered with the US elections via the creation of fake news. Countries can foment hostilities within another country by disseminating fake news on social media websites such as Facebook. Let’s not forget that billions of posts and comments are made on Facebook. There is massive exposure to some posts and articles especially when they become viral. Manipulators have woken up to the power of social media to change minds.
There’s also the important and pressing issue of how social media affects young people particularly young girls. There’s lots of peer pressure. Often people present an image of themselves on social media which is not faithful. They present something more perfect than they are. They create a fantasy world and they acquire lots of likes and admiration. Other girls and boys may become disillusioned and may acquire a negative self-image which affects their confidence and self-esteem. There have been stories of young people being driven to mental health conditions such as anorexia through overuse of Facebook, for example. At the extreme end there have been suicides filmed live in Facebook due to encouragement from others.
On January 4th, The Times newspaper, reports on “Children link self-worth to ‘likes’ on social media”. The parents of children post images and videos on Facebook or Twitter (called ‘sharenting’) and their children become upset because they are desperate for validation through Facebook ‘likes’ and comments which are not always forthcoming. Many kids in their first year at secondary school become dependent on receiving ‘likes’. These kids see life through the lens of social media which is potentially damaging to self-esteem and confidence. These are young, vulnerable and impressionable children. Their psychological development is vitally important in order to live contented lives.
In the UK, the Schools Commissioners Group has suggested that the government make it obligatory for schools to provide classes on ‘internet literacy’. In other words to ensure that children are educated on the dangers of social media.
Constant use of social media promotes inactivity. It arguably promotes obesity. If people especially young people spend all their time in front of their smart phone interacting with other users on social media they are failing to do something which was done regularly 30 or 40 years ago which is to exercise. To be outdoors and interact head-to-head, face-to-face with other people in play or discussion. If ‘play’ is always done in their heads on social media the physical aspects of life suffer.
From a personal standpoint, I dislike the way that social media is very reluctant to take down abusive posts, images, videos and articles on a range of topics including hate speech. The owners of Facebook and Twitter wish to preserve freedom of speech and expression. This is natural and normal but they overdo it. This allows people to abuse their right of freedom of speech by for example promoting animal abuse on Facebook. There are numerous instances of videos of animal abuse on Facebook which have remained on that website despite protestations from users towards the administrators to take them down. Facebook admits that its moderators have made incorrect decisions in almost half of cases flagged for investigation. Posts calling for the death of Muslims for example were not removed.
Other nasty people promote animal abuse in their words and once again these articles are not deleted by Facebook administrators. This reluctance to delete abusive material has included terrorist material and it extends beyond social media to Google. Google owns YouTube and there had been hundreds of instances of videos encouraging paedophile behaviour and terrorism which have remained on that site for years in some instances despite attempts to have them removed. The Times newspaper in the UK instigated a campaign against Google to remove paedophilic and terrorist videos. This is showing signs of success but once again the owners of these Internet giants are very reluctant to censor users. They overplay that hand. Sometimes there is an obvious and pressing need to censor.
In Germany a new law (NetzDG) came into force on 1st Jan 2018. It gives online service providers 24 hours following a complaint to take down material which has been deemed to be illegal, hate speech or fake news. In the USA the attitude towards freedom of speech is radically different. The First Amendment says “Congress should make no law…abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press”. This is religiously upheld against all logic by Google.
To return finally to animal rescue which is an area in which I’m interested. Occasionally you will find on Facebook, immoral people and cat hoarders involved in raising funds from decent animal lovers in a deceitful and fraudulent manner. They do this for money and for esteem. If you can’t meet people face-to-face as you can’t on social media you can’t really read the person and understand them better. As mentioned they present to the world a cleaned up image of themselves and their views to manipulate good-natured people. Social media is a breeding ground for this sort of person. It is somewhat lawless as is the entirety of the Internet. The truth is that Youtube and Facebook don’t have the means to control user input. These businesses are out of control to a certain extent.
I have to mention one irritating aspect of social media: 90% of it is banal chat lacking in any usefulness. And President Trump’s tweets have gotten him into an awful lot of trouble. Damn it, WW3 could start with a tweet!
Communist quasi-dictatorships such as China tend to censor social media to avoid social unrest. Iran has blocked social media during the protests which are on the news at the moment. These governments would argue that social media can be bad as it undermines governments and social cohesion. Of course the people protesting would say the opposite. In this instance social media is a vehicle for good.
One final point about the Internet giants such as Facebook. They don’t pay their due in terms of taxes. They use complicated rerouting of funds to offshore accounts to substantially lower their profit and therefore end up paying very low corporation tax. This is unacceptable and demonstrates to us their lack of concern for social welfare and an overemphasis on an immoral approach towards maximising financial profit.