Social Media – a positive or negative influence on society?

30th January, 2019

Social Media: a positive or negative influence on society?

Social media has become highly popular in the current climate, with over a billion active users on social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. In this session, we decided to consider what might be the psychological costs and benefits to a social media platform.

On one hand, it was noted that social media is a useful tool in connecting people. It can bring like-minded individuals together, and provide support networks which may satisfy basic human needs of feeling a sense of belonging. This notion of bringing people together can also bring about transformative cultural change by raising awareness about important social issues. Social media for example has often been vital behind various movements such as #metoo.

Social media may also provide individuals the opportunity to explore their identities, and help define their sense of self. Because of the relative anonymity that social media can provide, it may present identity exploration opportunities that may not be so present to individuals in an offline capacity. This ability to explore their sense of self may in the long-term have positive benefits of allowing individuals to develop a clearly defined identity.

However, whilst social media can have several benefits, the same reasons for why it is beneficial, can also be the same reasons for why it is costly. For example, whilst social media may bring like-minded individuals together that can bring about positive cultural change, it can equally bring together those who may hold potentially dangerous ideological thinking and in turn increase the extremity of these attitudes. This would be in line with ideas of group polarisation, and it was noted that whilst social media may provide promise of positive change, it can equally allow for extremist opinions to gain popularity. Social media may also present opportunities for people to become embedded in echo chambers whereby they are not exposed to any other viewpoint than their own, further enhancing this polarisation. It was suggested that this might be one reason why the current social and political climate appears to be incredibly polarised.

It was also noted that whilst social media may permit the opportunity for support networks, and identity exploration that can lead to positive impacts for well-being, it can also have detrimental impacts as well. One issue is that social media content may become the basis for feelings of self-worth, and that as people may often engage in self-presentational tactics on social media (e.g., posting positive stories about their lives, or highly flattering images of themselves) that this may lead individuals to being exposed to continual social comparisons that could impinge negatively on their sense of self. Moreover, it may also heighten the perceived bases of self-worth to unrealistic standards that are not for the most part achievable. This issue is perhaps most exemplified when considering issues of the female body image.

Given the relative positive and negative consequences of social media, it was considered how society should handle social media in the future. One suggestion was that of more regulation of content. News information should be permitted only if it is verified, and that individuals should be exposed to various sources of information that are not necessarily aligned to their political view. Moreover, it was proposed that whilst anonymity can have positive benefits, that their needed to be more accountability for what people post online. One solution to this may be to permit the use of anonymous usernames, but accounts have to be linked to a proof of ID that therefore can ensure accountability and responsibility for actions that are displayed on social media.

Nicole Dady

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