Social media is a technology that in less than 20 years has affected almost every level of society. You could say it’s like the television or the automobile in that it is responsible for tremendous change — though not all of it has benefitted our culture and society.
The global uptake of social media is unprecedented compared to other forms of technology. For instance, Facebook is set to exceed 2.7 billion users this year. It’s an astounding number when you consider that this figure is equivalent to more than 35% of the earth’s population and that this is from an organisation that only launched in February 2004.
Like it (no pun intended) or not, social media won’t be disappearing in the foreseeable future.
Is social media good or bad for us?
There’s no simple answer as there are so many arguments in favour and against.
For instance, one of the fundamental things that makes social media so popular is that it is convenient, easy and instantaneous. This means it’s something that can be applied to ‘good’ reasons, be it reaching out to a mate, organising an event, posting helpful information or checking in with someone.
Occasionally, a positive message will do spectacularly well. In January 2019, a photo of an egg was posted online with the intention of becoming “the most-liked post on Instagram”. It did this in just nine days and its express purpose was to promote mental health across the world.
On the other hand, the term “fake news” was practically unknown until a small group of people discovered that publishing outrageous and completely made up stories was an easy way to make money off digital advertising. At one time it became so widespread that popular ‘fake news’ stories on Facebook and Twitter significantly outperformed genuine stories.
The fact that ‘fake news’ became so widespread and even entered every-day language shows social media’s potentially harmful consequences when misused.
There are many other things about social media that can be seen as good or bad.
Social media is of course a convenient and powerful tool for staying in touch or finding communities with shared interests. However, there is also strong evidence that excessive use of social media presents a greater risk of social isolation, loneliness and anxiety.
Another benefit is that social media has the potential to normalise certain behaviour by making it seem acceptable. The previously mentioned Talking Egg, is a case in point. The fact that the most popular Instagram post of all time happens to be entirely about promoting mental health is arguably a very good thing.
Unfortunately, the reverse can also be true. This is evident in the spread of content that might be racist, violent, or misleading, as well as anti-social behaviour and online bullying and trolling.
Perhaps one of the most unexpected changes brought about by social media is the way it can affect relationships. Social media use is now so commonplace that, when it comes to dating and initiating romantic encounters, swapping social media profiles (among certain age groups at least) is often the default form of exchanging contact details, rather than the traditional phone number.
On the other hand, constant social media use (or even social media addiction) can in itself be a problem, such as when a person’s excessive use of a smartphone or app begins to interfere in a relationship.
So is social media good or bad?
There’s no question that social media has fundamentally affected how billions of people live and communicate. More to the point, almost all of those changes have occurred in the last 20 years.
Sure, while not everything about social media is ‘good’ (think fake news, online bullying and harassment), there are many things about social media that are beneficial, from the Talking Egg example to the fact that a service like NQ Connect has an active social media presence.
As with so many things in life, overindulgence or dependency is often not the best option. The key then, is moderation: modest amounts of daily use, staying out of unnecessary dramas, remaining cautious about interacting with strangers, and not tying your identity to your online profile.
Need help? You can find support services in northern Queensland or complete a self-administered K10 test for depression and anxiety. You can also join the online mental health forum to talk with like-minded people.