Social Media: Liberator or Overlord?

Image courtesy of Stockvault.

Sharing information has changed drastically over the last 20 years. Mass media initially involved printing words on paper. This could only affect people that could read, at least until pictures could get printed en masse. Print gave way to radio, which then gave way to television. Each change meant information spread from a trickle to a fire hose.

But the information only went one way.
The difference between mass and social media is that the latter lets the audience interact with what they’re getting. I used to tell people who yell at their televisions that the people inside can’t hear them. It was true until the advent of live streaming and live Tweets. Now there is a crowd consuming media that can turn on the provider and each other on a whim.

This is a good thing. Right?
People in countries affected by the Arab Spring might have the most to say about it. There certainly are some social movements here in the U.S. that needed social media to flourish. Despite these phenomena, there are also counter-movements forming against new ideas. Names for everyone get combined with searchable hashtags and spread everywhere like manure.

One question I don’t hear asked enough is whether social media is a servant or master of people. Facebook’s recent problems with fraudulent companies, Twitter’s problems with curbing ISIS recruitment accounts, and YouTube’s problem with abusive child media are all good examples of the darker side of this new thing. People want social media they can use freely, but they don’t want the consequences such unfettered speech brings. Strangely enough, the best way to prevent such consequences is to use social media to persuade people to do things.

That’s its own peculiar danger. Everyone can agree that social media is great when it prompts people to do whatever they feel is the RIGHT THING™. Such prompting needs to get looked at more closely. There is a very blurry line between a mob bullying people to follow along and a consensus getting formed from persuasion and mutual respect. Sometimes both can be happening at the same time.

Image from quickmeme.com .

I can’t say that social media is encouraging people to be the best versions of themselves.
Whether it’s an argument on Facebook or toxic trolling on blogs, right now social media companies have metaphorically destroyed the dam holding back human interaction. Everyone is their own mass media outlet now. The people who get voices are often only those which garner attention for attention’s sake. I think this forms the basis for my previous complaints on news and its impact on people.

Even this blog is part of the problem. I started it originally to voice whatever was coming into my head as I learned to cope with depression and anxiety. Those problems don’t exist on their own, and they necessarily reach into other areas. As of late, I’m terribly aware of what effects my non-fiction writing might have on my audience. I don’t want to add to mental illness stigma, or to hate speech, or to marginalizing anyone simply for belonging to a group.

The human capacity for speech is greater than it has ever been. Whatever I write no longer just affects one or two people that read it. But I’m still only a small part in this great machine of electronic data we call the Internet. My fear is that the least edifying of humanity will determine how this machine will work, that people will willingly deliver themselves into this web where they can never break free.

Social media, by all rights, ought to be a tool like a hammer or a screwdriver or a wrench. To a certain extent, they are, because they can be used to build many different things. Right now we still have a choice as to what we’re building.

I don’t think that choice will last forever.

15 thoughts on “Social Media: Liberator or Overlord?

  1. I think many of the core ills would go away if people were required to post under their own name/identity. This would disenfranchise people blogging from the closet, etc. but I think the trolling would diminish greatly if we knew who was trolling. This was the case in person-to-person interactions. Society decided that racist comments were no longer appropriate so they disappeared from most conversations because the speakers were standing their with their faces handing out. (Gossip is a social construct designed to control bad behavior of tribal members.) How many neonazis want their identities known?

    Liked by 3 people

      • I suppose I’ll pose the question to you as well: what benefits does society reap from bullying others into submission? I can understand situations of imminent danger or bodily harm, but what about policing ideas that are more removed?

        Like

      • I am not advocating for policing ideas. I want all ideas to be out in the open. I want the racist to say so in their names or the neoNazi to do so under their names and not hide under pseudo-names. That’s all.

        Liked by 1 person

    • I get what you’re saying, but that would effectively just require people to dox themselves before being allowed to use social media. Everyone would be at the mercy of the tribe, which could resort to all sorts of other methods to silence people. Not just trolls or social critics would suffer. Anyone who says anything unpopular would suffer as well.

      Using Neo-Nazis as an example, what benefits happen when society uses social media to bully them into silence? Does it stop that person from being ignorant? Does it just push that person away from social media?

      I don’t think knowing an identity of an individual would help persuade that person to stop being pro-fascist and racist.

      Like

      • Anonymity makes it easier to focus on the idea rather than the often irrelevant identity of the speaker. While speaking publicly would make it easier to out trolls, it also makes it easier for people to threaten speakers as well. For example, live streamers on Twitch have to protect their location information, or else a viewer might have them get swatted. That is, a viewer will call in a false emergency to get a SWAT team to arrest the streamer – all for the sake of cheap, ignorant laughs.

        While ease of use would be no problem for people that can discuss an idea on its merits without impugning the person holding them, the weakest people can and often have taken the easiest route of silencing dissenters. Without taking human action based on ignorance into account, I think that it would just invite a different problem into social media.

        Like

      • I have tried to tweet, for a short while only, anonymously and gave it up. I wouldn’t want people knowing where I live but that’s no reason not to communicate under my name.
        We don’t have a problem of swatting. I recall the incident that ended in loss of life not so long ago.
        Hardly does a name distract me, but a photo might but not the extent of resorting to ad hominem instead of merits or lack thereof of an argument

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I use social media today mainly as a marketing tool. But, I use it for work too and have been hired for my expertise.

    Marketing oneself, branding a company, publishing content- marketing, in general, would cost so much more without social media today. Why? Because everything has gone digital. We’re in a digital age where content distribution go hand in hand with social media. Having said that, there is a good and bad way to utilize social media and it’s not for everyone. Which is perfectly fine.

    But, I don’t like how it creates ease dropping and almost forces us to compare ourselves to each other. So, I stay away from using social media in a way that will only make my depression worse- which is unfair comparisons. I stay away and stop myself from “going there” and using social media to make myself feel worse. Of course, people have a right to brag on social media about their promotions, book deals, landing an agent, having a new baby, buying a new house or that big yacht. But, I can also choose to mute who I want, unfollow, or block someone. I have done all three.

    But I have taken myself off of FB for a few months once a couple of times. I actually disconnected my account and felt great doing it. I now use FB sparingly only for marketing purposes. But I hardly share anything personal on FB anymore. I guess because people seem to brag the most on it compared to other social media tools. Some people can handle it and actually love to try and “keep up with the Jones.” I can’t do it, it’s not mentally healthy for me. I’ll post blog posts or share content I’ve written, marketing my skill set for current and clients I work with and or employers. But, I don’ t over share and don’t spy on people and see what they’re bragging about. It only makes me feel bad and these days I’m all about self-improvement and evolving.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re right. Life isn’t a foot race or even running from a bear. I’ve resisted the urge to try to keep up with other people, but I think it’s because I set unrealistic expectations for myself. Social media just pushes all my other buttons it feels like.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I feel you on the button pushing! I’m in the same boat. For me, it just feels like social media fuels competition between one another. While competition is healthy, it can also make us see our glass-half-empty rather than half-full. This is because we’re too busy reading about what someone else achieved, having done it before us, and then that sets us up to feel like a failure. At least FB, out of all social media sites, has pushed my buttons in this way. Then, I spiral into depression while beating myself over my very high expectations that I set for myself, expecting me to get there as fast as Jane Doe on FB. So, like you, I regulate myself now. Great post! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Ugh. This is a topic I’ve thought about *a lot* lately. As a whole I think Social Media has done more harm than good. I’d be in favor of getting rid of all of it and go back to what we used to do. We can find some other way to express our freedom of speech.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.