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Friday, May 24, 2024

The Internet Explorer: The pros and cons of social media

garcia_opIn the most fundamental sense, social media serves as a mediator for long-distance communication between two people, or even two entities, like a news source and the general public. And like all things, it has both good and bad qualities. I think of this duality metaphorically in terms of Newton’s Third Law, which roughly decrees that, for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. The same applies to social media. For its every flaw or defect, it also has a redeeming quality. Ultimately, the ‘good’ qualities overshadow the ‘bad’ ones, as they effectively enable a more connected society through the Internet.

Social media is often criticized for enabling the spread of unreliable and false information. But at the same time, many users credit these sites for being able to spread information faster than any other form of media. The negative criticism can easily be justified given the Internet’s relative anonymity for fabricating information. Because we don’t see any immediate threats, we don’t always hold ourselves accountable for what we share. On the other hand, over 50 percent of people now get their news from social media sites, and anywhere between 52 and 65 percent of media reporters claim to use sites like Twitter and Facebook to research their stories. In emergency situations, such as the infamous Aurora, Colo. theater shooting, social media sites were able to spread public awareness of the incident before news vans could arrive on the scene. And during natural disasters, social media allows people to let their loved ones know that they are safe.

Among other caveats of social media, students who are avid users tend to have lower grades. According to a 2010 study, students who use social media had an average GPA of 3.06 compared to non-users, who had an average GPA of 3.82. Two-thirds of teachers believe that social media distracts students more than helps elevate their academic prospects. However, some studies find that the opposite is true and that social media sites help students perform better in school. In fact, many students cannot fathom doing homework without some help from social networking sites. More than half of all students who use social media claim to rely on it for academic discussion and collaboration.

Social networking sites are also blamed for causing less face-to-face interactions between people. You’ve probably heard your dad, uncle or grandpa groan, ‘Why is your face always glued to your phone? Why don’t you go outside and interact with some real people?’ Well, they may be onto something. According to a 2012 study conducted by the Center for the Digital Future, the percentage of people reporting less face-to-face time with family in their homes rose from eight percent to 34 percent in the course of 11 years; 32 percent of respondents reported using social media or texting during meals instead of engaging with their families; and 10 percent of people under the age of 25 respond to social media and text messages during sex. However, social media can actually facilitate face-to-face interaction. They call it FaceTime for a reason, right? People often use social media sites like Skype to talk to people they seldom see, to maintain long distance or sporadic relationships and to organize in-person meetings.

I could go on.

Tell me that social media reduces employee productivity, and I’ll tell you that it is just as good for the economy. In recent years, corporations like Facebook and Twitter have produced revenue and thousands of jobs.

You could say that social media facilitates cyberbullying, and I’ll remind you that they also empower individuals to make social change through the sharing of images and stories. Recent cases of online activism include the #blacklivesmatter and #transisbeautiful movements.

I am not here to disprove any of social media’s flaws, nor to denounce those who find faults. I can sympathetically speak to both sides. And the statistics can vouch for every claim. Dichotomies relating to ‘good’ and ‘bad,’ or even ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ are false and confine how we interpret our modern world. Social media is no exception to this rule.

You can reach Jazmin Garcia at msjgarcia@ucdavis.edu


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