The Pros and Cons of Social Media
Social media, through various forms of apps and websites, has been used within society for a number of years. Enough time to be able to measure the positives and negatives of using social media.
In the early days of social media it was a novelty. A brave new world we were stepping into collectively. Making connections, building empires, and fighting for change.
In a short amount of time it became a huge part of everyday life. Influencing the decisions we make as a society in elections and through social justice. It gave those who once were deprived a voice the ability to speak up and create change, such as the ‘Arab Spring’.
However, in recent years a significant amount of negative stories about social media have come to light explaining the effects social media has on society. Stories about election fraud, ‘bot’ farms, and increasing mental health issues, particularly in young people.
Now we have this feedback it’s time to ask a question:
Is our love affair with social media coming to an end?
I’ll attempt to answer this question by putting together a selection of pros and cons of social media. Some you will agree with, others you won’t.
Personally, I have used some of the more popular social media networks, such as Facebook and Instagram. Over the years I have moved away from them but I’ll use some of my own experiences to compile the list.
First, some pros of social media:
Connecting with family and friends
This is one of the more obvious pros of social media. My partner quotes it as the main reason she still uses apps like Facebook.
In the first part of the 2000s there were a few attempts at creating lasting social networks. MySpace and Friends Reunited are ones that immediately come to mind. Both websites - no apps here, we were still in the ‘dumb phone’ stage - were early attempts to link people in different parts of the world through shared connections and interests.
However, neither managed to gain the traction necessary. MySpace was very popular and came very close to becoming the one we would all use, but it's traction soon fizzled out. Friends Reunited, which based a lot of its links through school connections, charged for their service, which turned people away who did not see value in what they were offering at the time.
What came next changed the digital landscape, and started the drive towards social media…
Facebook, launched to the general public in 2006, had the formula to connect the dots. By taking advantage of the highly detailed, and sometimes extremely private, information people were willing to hand over at signup, Facebook found a way to link you with friends, family, and create new links through shared interests.
Soon, we were reminiscing about times long forgotten, rekindling romances, old and new, and finding family we had long since lost contact with. My own mother managed to find her birth father’s family through social media, helping her get answers to many questions that remained unresolved throughout her life.
This is just one experience of social media and the effect it has had on a family reconnecting. There will no doubt be millions of stories similar to this so if you are looking for one of the main pros of social media, it must be this one.
Businesses reaching customers directly
One of the major pros of social media, particularly for small businesses and startups, is the ability to have direct contact with your customers. This sort of direct contact for both consumer and owner was previously unavailable and gave businesses the opportunity to expand based on the customer’s needs.
By taking the time to understand the different social media platforms and curate content that matches your client’s expectations there is a chance your tiny business can develop into a global success.
Create a post or put out an offer and you’ll gain real-time feedback on how well it has been received.
Through a varying range of notifications, most social media apps have a way of rating content. Create great content, something that hits all of the right notes with your audience, and the positive ratings will increase through likes, reactions, and comments. The more of these you gain, the more exposure your post will receive.
Create something with true ‘viral’ potential, and your relatively unknown talent can become a global hit overnight. Opening up a world of possibilities and financial rewards for you or your business.
If you’re a fan of a particular artist, designer, or content creator a pro of social media is the algorithms will serve up seemingly endless related content. Opening your eyes to arts and cultures that may have been previously unknown to you.
Being exposed to fresh content on a daily basis can help accelerate your own creativity, developing new pathways in a project or reduce the chances of creative blocks.
That was some of the pros of social media, but as always, when there is good, there is also bad. So what are some of the cons of social media?
Extreme levels of toxic behaviour
There is no getting around it because this is a stand out issue with social media. Go onto any social media app and you’ll immediately be exposed to negative/toxic comments.
Social media thrives on user interaction, and that seems to be either good or bad interactions. The more traffic or engagement a post gets, the more it is promoted through their algorithms.
An issue with many social media apps is the lack of transparency for users. There is no verification other than an email address and trust that you have entered your real name and date of birth. Therefore, many users do not feel responsible for the negative comments, or content, they post. Because of this we have seen a huge rise in openly racist comments and content. Some of this is removed quickly, but much of it slips through the net.
Why are these types of comments not being removed by social media apps? Pretty much it is the sheer size of the task. As an example, around 4.75 billion items are shared on Facebook alone. To manually validate each post would be impossible.
Their response to it has been to introduce artificial intelligence-based moderation, but this will not be perfect as the content it rejects is based on data models it receives. AI does not understand the nuances of conversation, and various meanings for words around the globe.
One of the reasons I left most social media platforms is that I increasingly saw my comments becoming more toxic. Interacting with people and friends in a way I wouldn’t consider normal in real life. It seems our prolonged use of social media has made us numb to people’s feelings. We forget that we are dealing with a human on the other end. Someone with complex feelings and emotions, posting content that is mentally damaging for many.
The rise of fake news
One particular con of social media that has emerged in recent years is the rise of ‘fake news’. This term was popularised by former US President, Donald Trump, who used it to refer to mainstream media. Suggesting they were creating stories that would benefit the Democrats.
Without irony, it was Trump who exploited social media by sharing content from unverified sources that quickly turned out to be untrue. However, by the time these posts were found to be ‘fake news’, the damage was done and he had already convinced his millions of followers.
Now, it's relatively easy to produce highly polished material. Software that once was only available to large businesses is now sold with everyday computers. And the improvements with smartphone cameras has meant it is quite common to see mainstream media using the format in necessary situations. This makes the task of identifying fake news more difficult. Add deepfake technology to the mix and the increase of fake news is extremely worrying.
Increased feelings of depression in young adults
I feel quite fortunate to be able to say this, I was part of the last generation to have lived their childhood without the pressures of social media and the desire to document every part of life.
For those born after the creation of social media, their childhoods have been far more difficult.
A significant con of social media is how it has seriously damaged young minds. For them, there is a constant pressure to please others with a well-documented, perfect lifestyle. Being exposed to content that is heavily edited, omitting the failures we all experience.
Awful stories are now emerging of young people either taking their lives or inflicting self-harm because of the perfection they are expected to chase due to social media is unattainable.
Apps like Snapchat introduced filters that doctored your facial features, giving you an almost cartoonish look. The issue with facial filters is you begin to see yourself through this lens, and considering young minds are easily influenced, it gives them a warped idea of what they should look like and where they can find happiness. In many cases it will develop into self-loathing and self-harm, but in the most tragic cases, it can result in suicide.
Molly Russell has been one of the high-profile cases of this. Her use of social media was increasingly negative, taking her deeper into states of depression and suicidal thoughts Algorithms, designed to serve relevant content, were delivering much darker content the more she used the apps. It became a downward spiral that she was unable to escape, eventually ending in her taking her own life.
My own sister has struggled with depression and eating disorders, brought on by social media and the content exposure she had at a young age. In hindsight, more could have been done by our family to reduce her social media usage, but the reality is that would not have been possible to control fully when friends are using them and it's so easy to sign up for.
Social media apps are finely tuned to exploit the worst parts of human behaviour. By tapping into our biggest insecurities and feelings of jealousy they keep us fixed on their platforms. When companies like Facebook (now Meta) aim to increase a user's daily engagement, you realise you are using something potentially dangerous to your own wellbeing.
Huge levels of money are invested into each app to optimise the time you spend on their platform, and they aim to increase that time whenever possible with various A/B tests. Modifying your personal experience so they can harvest more of your time.
Keeping you on their app and having you aimlessly scroll, and ‘like’ posts, means you will be exposed to more adverts. Which is the main provider of income for these platforms.
When social media first appeared we joined the apps without a second thought. We heard friends and family were using the apps so followed suit by entering our own details and creating accounts across multiple platforms. At the time, the apps were asking for what seemed like trivial details. Name, date of birth, email address, location… At the beginning, for many people, this didn’t feel like a big deal.
Years later, this relaxed approach to our personal details has now given rise to one of the major cons of social media. Privacy concerns and the harvesting of personal data. We are now in a very difficult situation as so much of our personal life is not only freely available, it is also archived in vast data centres.
When Facebook went public in 2012 the first day of trading saw shares close at just over $38. Something that many analysts (those who say they understand the markets) said was an overvaluation. For them, and many of its users, how could a platform that generates no monthly income via a subscription model be worth so much money.
The market analysts obviously did not take into account the treasure trove Facebook had in personal user data. This private data was worth billions, and users handed it over for free. This enabled social media platforms to create highly complex advertising services, enabling companies to target users to such a fine detail.
I think you can probably agree when I say that I have not listed all of the pros and cons of social media. This list has potential to grow arms and legs as there are many arguments for both sides.
Personally, I think there are more negatives, and dangerous ones at that, than positives to using social media. For those who use it, I think it's vital to understand when social media is benefiting you and when it's having a negative impact on your life. This is something I was able to recognise so I began to wean myself off the platforms.
Have these pros and cons of social media answer the question I posed at the beginning:
Is our love affair with social media coming to an end?
For some, yes, I believe it's the case they look at social media as a dangerous tool. Looking forward to the day when each platform topples one-by-one. Others now look at it with some caution but continue to use social media, and a section continue to use it without a care in the world.
For many people though, they are beginning to understand that it can have significant control and influence over their lives so it needs to be monitored closely.
Looking for web design or branding serivces in Inverness?
Choose from the options below, if you are looking for expert web development, or finely crafted branding services.