Social Media: Good or Bad?
With every new invention or technological advancement, there's always an upside and a downside. All too often, it seems like people focus on the negatives or potential dangers of new inventions and gadgets.
Take television for example, I'm sure that most would agree that television (or more specifically, the television set) has revolutionized the world. Much has been said, written and researched on the negative effects of watching too much television, and especially on the impact of watching violent television shows. [As a side note, I think it's pretty incredible how the original concept of television is currently undergoing a revolution. Many of today's most popular "television shows"- courtesy of Netflix and Amazon- are probably not even watched on an actual television set.]
When it comes to social media and the Internet, I'm sure that you could rattle off a laundry list of negative things that could be attributed to both- there's cyber stalking, cyberbullying, pedophiles preying on children, trolls, catfishing, revenge porn, and the dark web, just to name a few.
As someone who generally tries to see the upside of things, I try to focus on the good that social media contributes to our lives. We are social creatures after all and crave social interaction. I think that most people want to feel that they matter in some way- that there is someone else out there who cares about them. Social media can help people feel less isolated by giving them an outlet through which to express their joys and frustrations, and then to feel validated and connected when they receive responses and engage with others. I've seen people make what seems to be a public cry for help on social media, and then receive supportive comments in response. Also on the list of good things about social media, is how we now find out about our friends engagements, weddings and birth announcements through Facebook. Going back to the person who's made a cry for help, presumably it's comforting to be getting responses from friends and acquaintances, and maybe also surprising to see who has reached out or come out of the woodwork to express their concern. Hopefully an outpouring like this would make a person feel less despondent. I've also seen people complain and rant about something over social media, using it as an outlet to simply vent, probably not expecting any particular outcome. In response, I've seen people share their opinions, words of support and encouragement, and how they've also experienced something similar. Some even shared some solid advice, real resources and solutions- which is certainly most helpful and probably another unexpected reaction to the poster's initial rant. A lot of the exchanges described above probably wouldn't have happened at all were it not for the person who initially shared what they were going through on social media.
There are also many ways in which social media and related technologies have and are bringing about more good in the world:
Social media has facilitated social movements and revolutions (most notably the Arab Spring).
Authorities and police now use social media to investigate and crack cases. Twitter users have used Twitter to tip off the police.
There are indeed a lot of ways that social media is making the world a better place! I remember the first time I discovered Facebook Safety Check. It was earlier this year when a 6.4 magnitude earthquake rocked southern Taiwan.
When I saw several of my friends in Taiwan marking themselves safe on Facebook in the wake of the earthquake, I thought, what a really great feature. Now this is social media for good!
When the explosion on 23rd Street and 6th Avenue happened in New York on Saturday around 8:30 pm, I initially tweeted a photo from the scene for my friends and family to see. I was on my way uptown from the Chelsea/Flatiron district.
I also posted this photo to Facebook with a message that I was safe. When I finally got through all of the blocked streets and made it to my destination, I was finally able to sit down and tell my friend who had been waiting for me what had happened. Later on, close to 11:00 pm, I thought that it might be a good idea to use the Facebook Safety Check to mark myself safe. But when I opened up the Facebook app on my phone and searched for the Facebook Safety Check, I was disappointed. I couldn't find a safety check for the New York explosion. So I wrote another post on my Facebook wall to let friends and family know that I was safe.
I later read an article, which stated that Facebook belatedly activated it's safety feature for the New York explosion, and that it was criticized for not doing so sooner. I'm not sure what Facebook's criteria for activating the safety check is, but I think that they should have acted sooner because New York is a major city. In these situations timing is everything. It was a huge opportunity for some major engagement on their platform, but they didn't get to capitalize on it.
Time and time again, social media has been used for good. I think that it's really changed the world, especially the news and media. It has broken down walls and made news and information more readily accessible. Of course that also means that there is more "news" being shared and circulated, so people have to be much more discerning about the sources of their news and the truth and reliability of what they are reading.
When I was in Taiwan in 2014, during the Sunflower Movement I saw firsthand how social media helped to mobilize a social movement. On the night of March 18th, activists and students broke into the Legislative Yuan building in Taipei in protest of the Cross-Strait Service Trade Agreement between China and Taiwan. This was the birth of the Sunflower Movement. The Legislative Yuan was subsequently occupied until April 10th, for over 20 days.
Unfortunately, the mainstream media in the U.S. tends to underreport on Taiwan. To prove my point, let's take the Sunflower Movement in Taiwan and the Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong. Have you heard of either one? It's my guess that more people have heard about the Umbrella Movement than the Sunflower Movement.
Knowing that there wouldn't be much coverage on the situation in Taiwan and that my friends and family on the other side of the world would be wondering what's going on, I was constantly sharing what I could about the situation on Facebook and my other website AboutSuBeng.com.
Later on the Sunflower Movement went global after one of the student leaders of the movement, Lin Fei-Fan called on the people of Taiwan to take to the streets on March 30th in a show of support for the movement and to call on the President to negotiate on the terms of the Cross-Strait Service Trade Agreement. Overseas communities began organizing rallies and on March 29th and March 30th, there was a strong show of international support for the Sunflower Movement, with rallies in 49 cities and 21 countries around the world. Social media played a huge role in mobilizing people globally on March 30th and throughout the Sunflower Movement.
And even more recently, there continue to be unexpected ways in which social media can be used for social good. Researchers from Harvard and University of Vermont have come up with a way to use Instagram to check on a person's mental health. They've come up with an algorithm, based on a person's Instagram feed that can detect if someone is showing signs of being clinically depressed. Snapchat is getting into the act too, but in a very different way. A journalist who was doing a piece on sexual abuse used Snapchat filters to conceal the identities of sexual assault survivors as he filmed their interviews.
I love hearing stories like about how social media is doing good. So I think I'll keep my rose-colored glasses on when it comes to looking at social media.