Is Social Media Making The Internet Worse?
When did you get your first social media account? Was it back in 2006, when Facebook was first released to the public and Jack Dorsey sent out the very first tweet, “just setting up my twttr”? Was it further back when MySpace launched in 2003? Perhaps you’re one of the few who go back even farther, remembering the days of BBS boards, IIRC, and AOL Instant Messenger.
The very first tweet, in all it’s mid-2000s glory
I’ve talked a bit about the history of the information age, including the formation of the internet, and how social media has developed, but I think it’s time to really dig in to the details. The history of social networking may go all the way back to the dawn of computing, or at least to the 1970s, when the internet was used solely as a way for government researchers to share information, but how is it affecting us now?
Recently, there has been a lot of backlash against social media from former Facebook and Google employees, and several studies have been released saying that social media has been negatively impacting our mental health. Spending too much time on Facebook can lower moods, and on top of that, there are fears that it can influence how we think.
This graph from Experion shows how most people use social media. As you can see, it’s not for nefarious purposes!
As you can imagine, for someone as pro-technology as myself, this is a tough pill to swallow. Technology is supposed to make our lives better, isn’t it? Social media allows us to keep in contact with people we wouldn’t normally be able to see, such as parents or friends who move away. It facilitates instant communication, allowing us to live more mobile, independent lives. We are free of the office, able to work from home, the cafe down the street, the park, and we aren’t cut off from our coworkers!
Of course, some of us have a hard time disconnecting from social media while in the office, causing our productivity to suffer. It hasn’t been thoroughly studied just yet, as the internet really started gaining popularity after the Dot Com boom of the 90s, but behavioral psychologists believe that internet addiction is a real problem. Getting a notification from the Like button on Facebook gives users much the same hit of dopamine that pulling a lever on a slot machine gives to gamblers.
But internet addiction isn’t the only thing that has Facebook employees feeling dismayed with their work. More and more people are getting their news exclusively through social media, and it’s having a noticeable effect on everything from politics, to marketing, to news media itself.
For the past two years, fake news has been all over the, well… news. It’s a phrase coined during the last presidential election, and believe it or not, it’s… actually a problem. Though it is popularly used in reference to any media that slanders the Republican party or conservatives in general, fake news refers to any unverified news that is spread through disreputable sources. Like Macedonia, for example.
During the 2016 election, there were a large number of news sites based in Veles, Macedonia that were primarily run by teenagers looking to cash in on Google ads. Their articles, typically inflammatory and sensationalist stories about American politics, would then make their way to Facebook and circulate heavily, earning large amounts of money through clicks and ads. These websites tended to put out five to ten articles a day, most of which were simply taken from other websites.
This infographic from ifla.org can help you spot real fake news
Even more recently, fake news articles about the survivors of the Parkland shooting have been circulating at an alarming rate. One of the most prevalent fake articles centers around the claim that David Hogg, one of the students who has been speaking out about the need for gun control, is a “crisis actor.” Though many social media outlets are fighting against the spread of fake news, it almost feels like a losing battle. Especially when some users take a hit to their follower count as fake news bots are purged, and call it censorship and attacks on conservatism.
In the end, I think that technology, like always, is neither wholly good nor bad, and the impact it has on an individual or even national scale is dependant on how we, the users, interact with us.we have to be in control of our social media consumption and be responsible for our own actions. Even I catch myself wasting time on social media when I should be focusing on more important things (like writing blog posts).
If you find yourself needing something to keep yourself on track, there are a variety of mobile and web apps that can help keep the temptation of popping over to Facebook or Twitter for just a moment at bay, and when it comes to fake news, fact check everything you read before sharing. Social media doesn’t have to be the great evil some Silicon Valley experts are chalking it up to be. But we have to be aware of the dangers in order to keep it safe for ourselves, and everyone around us.