7 Ways in Which Social Media is Harming Society
There once was a time not long ago when people had to read in order to gain knowledge about current events and happenings. People even went to libraries to do research that often took countless hours and days to do as compared to the relative ease that people can access articles, books, and other sources of data in today’s digital age. While it is hard to argue with the benefits of internet resources and digital tools, it is also hard not to contemplate how they have harmed our society and thinking. On a side note, I am as guilty of allowing myself to be overcome by some of the items I discuss below, and am working to stop the trend.
Social media is contributing to the proliferation of ignorance. Consider the influence of the internet on how we access information. Gone are the days of newspapers, books, trips to the library, and print resources. Now, when we want to know any tidbit of information, we simply input it into a search engine and hit the return key. Some may say that technology has helped close the gap between haves and have nots, scholars and the average person, and the oppressed and oppressors by providing an abundance of information, data, and knowledge that can be used to help people be more informed about the world around them, make better decisions, reconsider values, ideologies, and world views, and act with a purpose. The problem with this perspective is that in very few cases are young people or adults taught how to critically think, evaluate, scrutinize, or critique the information that they find online. Now, everyone is an expert on everything because after all, they read about it or saw it on the internet. What is just as frightening is that they take this reduced down knowledge and spread their gospel on social media and even in classrooms and places of work in order to educate and enlighten others. Now, people with no college education are FB preachers and those with a minimal amount of education are suddenly experts on every topic. I am all about many “truths”, but this path is quite dangerous given the impact of these many truths on peoples’ decision making. While everyone has the right to their opinion or perspective, trusting in blogs (even written by educated people), memes, posts, tweets, and videos to be the basis of your knowledge base and decision making is quite concerning, because in the words of of a wise philosopher, “opinions are like assholes, everyone has one”, and many of them stink something awful. The challenge is that all opinions are not really equal, but in the day and age of social media, we are quickly moving in the direction of epistemological nihilism.
Social media has led to lazy thinkers.
For every thoughtful blog written by a person of color on police shooting or white privilege, there is a blog written by a neo-nazi, evangelical extremist, or political nut job, and in reality, how does one place any of these pieces higher than the others? We simply click like and share in relation to those digital messages that support our own opinions and values. Both the “right side” and “wrong side”, no matter which side you view under each label, often without even reading or researching the points made, author, etc. We already have our minds made up. This is well documented in the #blacklivesmatter vs. #alllivesmatter debate taking place in virtual spaces near you. While some champion the voices and alternative perspectives coming out of the virtual jousting match, few people on either side can see the flaws within their own values and perspectives. You posting a meme putting down #alllivesmatter or writing an “intellectual post calling out white people” is likely going to have the same impact on others as the #AllLivesmatter meme that your conservative older aunt posted on FB had on you. Additionally, most of us are preaching to the choir in many of our social media spaces. You’re not enlightening people with your digital messaging, anymore than those you despise. Unfortunately, in the digital age, people are not only dumber, they have become disillusioned about their expertise and intelligence. Finally, because of the rapid fire motion of the digital world, we have all become lazier as a result. Instead of going through a process of conducting research, seeking out and critiquing multiple sources of knowledge, and seeking help from those with expertise on the topic, we simply rather write a quick post, tweet 144 characters, or write an emotional discombobulated blog than to take a deep breath, put the time into legitimate inquiry, and disseminate something with more substance.
Social media has led to a brave calloused society.
People have not only grown stupid, they have also become more callused. I remember watching the Challenger fall out of the sky in class and it deeply impacted me as a kid, but now a days, we see terrible events, deaths, oppression, etc. on social media in constant shuffle each and every day. How do we expect people to develop empathy or compassion when the digital age has all but made entire generations and possibly the entire human race desensitized and numb of emotions? People attack one another online every day for their perspectives, and very brave people who feel as though they can say things online that they would never voice to a person’s face, at least not where I grew up. This behavior happens on all sides of the the ideological continuum as well. “Allies” regularly engage in rescuing behavior and attack people with the same violence and dogma that they are supposedly trying to fight to eliminate, yet they do not see any of it, because at least if they are being good allies in virtual spaces, they can sleep better at night.
Social media has traumatized the world.
Students now regularly use words like, “traumatized”, “unsafe”, and “triggered” every day in classrooms. I saw a man shot down in front of me when I was 8, I watched my step father beat my mom almost to death on more than one occasion, and have had a gun pointed at my head on two different occasions. Want to talk about traumatizing and triggering? If social media is leading younger generations to being so fragile, because let’s be real, society has not suddenly become more racist, more violent, or more oppressive in the past 5-10 years. We have always lived under these conditions, but because of the digital age, younger generations are witness to much more injustice than previous generations did growing up. One of the scary things is that many academics and scholars are some of the worst offenders of jumping on bandwagons, buying into social media and digital messaging without researching more deeply about issues, events, etc. The worst part of it is that we as educators and educated individuals have some degree of credibility to the masses, so people might actually believe that a blog written by Dr. Shane Brady is somehow empirical fact or evidence. We chastise our students for falling into this trap, yet many of us do it regularly; we have all become traumatized, stupid, and lazy.
Social media has led to a fickle society.
In the digital age, it is easy to gain and lose friends over night. As long as you agree with friends’ perspectives, and digital knowledge building, you have tons of support, but the minute you decide to disagree, you instantly can lose an entire community of support. I find this especially frustrating when as an educated person, people do not see your education, experience, or research base in a post or a critique you make, but only your real or perceived social identities. Yes social identities matter, privilege matters, and injustices are real, but your entire world view should not be shaped by a social media and Wikipedia knowledge base. It’s ok for white people to critique #BlackLivesMatters and it’s ok for LGBTQ identifying persons to critique the protests of gay pride parades as much as it is for persons of color to critique white privilege and the exclusion of persons of color from the mainstream LGBTQ movement. We put ourselves in a digital world and use it haphazardly in our advocacy and lives, yet we are quickly offended when others do the same think, and we disagree with their positions.
Social media has promoted a narcissistic society.
How many profile pics does one person need to take? How many times do we need to post about accomplishments to fish for compliments and kudos from others? How many times do we keep posting on someone else’s page until we feel like we have “won” the debate? On top of these common social media occurrences, we also have a whole slew of political correctness experts as a result of the digital world. Ever have that one friend or colleague who feels the need to correct your post with their well articulated politically correct words of wisdom that they so freely bestow upon others under the false assumption that they are “raising your consciousness”? Consciousness raising or narcissism? People in the digital age have forgotten manners. How many times has a friend of a friend decided to contribute to a debate or thread on your social media platform? How about the political correctness expert who could very easily private message you to tell you that something offended them, but instead they post in your space for the entire world to see. I often wonder whether peoples’ posts are really the result of good intentions or narcissistic ego. Also, while I may not agree with my conservative family member or friend, I surely don’t need another friend chastising or attacking them in my digital space. Would you come into my home and tell my family member they are an asshole? Probably not, so why would you come into someone’s digital home and do so? Did you really think that critiquing police after Dallas was going to help advance social justice discourse anymore than #AllLivesMatter posts were helpful after Baton Rouge? Manners matter folks, even in a digital world, but somehow we have gotten away with violating them for so long, that we have become so self absorbed that we justify it in the name of the free flow of information or for the sake of consciousness raising.
Social media is not leading to a more socially just world
In the digital world we desperately want to believe that are blogs, tweets, forums, posts, etc. are leading to a more just world. The reality is that at best it is emphasizing our difference and divisions, and at worst it is destroying us. We tend to point to social movements such as Arab Spring and #BlackLivesMatter as evidence that social media is changing the world. I would caution against this type of thinking as for every social movement taking form in or using digital spaces, there are 10 hate groups also utilizing digital spaces to advance hatred and injustice. It is also important to realize that in social movements to advance justice, real human beings die, so while I am sure that those involved in the Arab Spring or #BlackLivesMatters appreciate your supportive hashtag and meme share, they would likely appreciate your warm body alongside them in the trenches even more. Whether or not social media is helping or hindering the advancement of social justice is entirely subjective, but what I am seeing currently indicates that we are as divisive as we have ever been, only people are quicker with their tongue and putting perspectives out there in digital spaces, while at the same time they are lazier with non-digital forms of advocacy and action; the combination does not bode well for social justice.
In conclusion, while social media and technology provide many advantages and resources to society, we must all pay careful attention to its negative impact on our cognitive, mental, social, and emotional dimensions. Social media and digital tools cannot take the place of critical thinking, education, perspective taking, dialogue, self-reflection, or good manners.