Many lessons can be learned from how social media was used in 2016. With 176 million new social media users in 2016 alone (Brandwatch), it is clear to see that social networking is showing no evidence of slowing down. But towards the end of 2016, I decided to leave social media for an entire month. I deleted the Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram apps from my phone. Facebook stuck around a little longer (the Concrete Features page doesn’t run itself!) but in that month, I no longer found myself glancing at it in my spare moments. Being away from social media, especially at such a pivotal time (the US Presidential Election, no less) I began to realise how social media was being used around me, and I became more aware of the nasty side of the internet.
Before writing this article, I asked a diverse group of people, aged between 16-55, from students, to mothers, to young professionals, about what they believed the positives and negatives of social media were. Here are some of their answers:
We live in a culture where anything new makes the news, and we can create and consume media so quickly that it is near impossible to get to the end of your Twitter feed, or see the same thing twice on Facebook.
News is around us all the time, but our impression of what is important has changed. A celebrity has had a baby; they’ve lost weight; he’s been cheated on; who wore it better; #RIPCelebrity; squad goals; doge; flag filters on your profile photo – what is this all for?
Of course, it is important to have opinions on things, and equally important to share and discuss them with different people. Unfortunately, the Twitterverse has become a place in which it seems acceptable to say mean things to people, or about people, or behind people’s backs. It has become okay to shame people for their opinions or their appearance, and ‘calling people out’ has become vicious. For me, the real problem of social media seems to arise when being rude online becomes a fashion statement, and we believe so whole-heartedly in the importance of what we have to say, that we forget to listen.
Stalking exes, bulldozing people’s opinions, and writing indirect statuses are part of a bullying and gossiping culture perpetuated by social media. What we may think of as a way of connecting has ripped us all apart, and the ease of becoming a keyboard warrior has caused many to succumb. Think about Facebook, a concept developed from ‘Facemash’, where two people’s photos were placed side by side and students at Harvard had to vote on who was more attractive. It is clear to see that, sadly, not much has changed. Aesthetics and popularity are part of social media, and not fitting in with popular fashions, opinions or trends are now also reasons for internet hate.
The dangerous fact is that hatred can become a hobby online, and with 20 percent of young people who have been cyberbullied considering suicide, when are we going to realise that something needs to change? When did being a supporter of a certain politician warrant death threats? When did grammar, facial expressions (we all know the anti duck-face patrol) or eyebrows become reasons for hatred? There are, of course, more salient examples like homophobia, xenophobia and racism, which are broadcast online more than ever before. Social media aids this hatred, and has a sinister side to it. It is so easy to type things and press send without even thinking twice.
Of course, these platforms have their positives. We can connect with people we may never have met, we can talk to loved ones far away, we can show solidarity in times of change. We can share pictures and memories with loved ones, and we can boost people’s self esteem by engaging positively with others. These days, we can even fall in love over social media. We can raise money; we can raise hopes. However, with these platforms becoming more and more divisive, and with twitter rows, scandals and online gossip taking hold, there are a large amount of ostracising discourses taking place online these days.
There is far more to a person than what they can say in 140 characters, or whether they look better in Amaro or Ludwig filters, but we let what we say on the internet define us. It is so easy to get carried away into the depths of egotistical bulldozing and gossipy material.
These days, the percentage of young people between 18-34 years of age who use Facebook is higher than the percentage of the same age group that watch television. With so many of us using social media, is it not necessary to ask: is there a part of us that sits, complicit, on the sidelines of indirect (or direct) cyberbullying?
It would be wrong of me to say that I have not been complicit, too. I am back on social media now, and I do not wish to sound holier-than-thou about online habits. However, in leaving social media, I was more able to notice the need for change, and acknowledge the fact that we often forget that there are real people behind the usernames.
We all have a right to speak freely and frankly online, and respectful debate is both necessary and unavoidable. But, I hope that 2017 will be the year that media will grow from a world of shaming, shouting the loudest, and shying away, into a platform for informed debate and compassionate conversation. Social media is all about how we come across, and how we look.
But, isn’t it time we started to see what we are really doing?