“Social Media is the Future.” This is a modern phrase we hear often, and have accepted as part of our lives, yet the underlying effects of these technologies are insidious, and go unnoticed by most of us.
‘How many of you have instagram? Facebook? Snapchat? How many of you are active members of online communities? If you had asked me 10 years ago, I would have answered, instinctively, that perhaps one, or maybe two people had Twitter or Facebook, but now, I am almost completely certain that all of us have at least one social media application. Social media is not our future; it is our present, our life. Most of us, and I say us because I am also a person living in the 21st century, share our lives on these sites, and in turn, obtain an in-depth view into the daily life of those around us, meeting and conversing with strangers 2000 kilometres away. Just like magic!
It is difficult therefore to imagine, that underneath this magic, there are also calamitous consequences, a spewing network of ugliness. Social media manipulates us into believing that all its content is true, and so we end up trusting lies presented by unprofessional users, sharing them, and fomenting fake news.
Now, instead of meeting people in person, we become electronically connected through ‘friending’", and there are many other virtual ways of communication which, admittedly in some cases, can lead to true relationships. In most cases however, the effects of these online relationships are not positive, but destructive. By never truly seeing our 'friends', do we know who they are? Do you know the person who hides behind a facade of smiles and happy happy emojis? Do you really know who you're sending messages to, pictures to, information to, and even money to? The answer is no. Unless you meet these people face to face, there is no way to truly know who you are speaking to. There are people have shared private images with these trolls, believing them to be their friends, and then become blackmailed victims. Others have sent these trolls thousands of pounds, without knowing the true motive behind these demands for money, losing it all. This may sound dramatic but it is a reality for countless people around the globe.
Then there are others who have become romantically inclined through these forms of messaging. Yes, a few long-term relationships have resulted, but so often the reverse is true. Think of the ‘catfishes’ who falsely report their age and reality, too often leading to heartache and disappointment. Even worse, are the online predators of dating sites who arrange meetings with their victims in secret and remote places, some of which have even resulted in murder. You may say I am talking of extreme cases, but aren’t these very cases the ones we should be aware of and learn from.
Now it seems, we do not even need to travel to visit our family and friends - we can just video-call them or message them. Once again, this may seem great, but this socially distanced communication leads to a lack of intimacy with people we are closest to. It can even lead to the end of holidays: ‘I don't have to travel! Look, I don't have to visit foreign countries! It’s all here - the palm trees, white beaches sent by my friend.’ Do we not lose millions of cultural and captivating experiences as a result? We are left with people have based their whole existence on social media, and have forgotten to live, to travel, to meet and greet people.
It is true that social media, this instant source of information, allows all to share ideas online, giving us a voice and a medium. Now, even if we are not a member of a club or physical community, we can share our ideas through this intricate network of communication, and discover different points of view to our own, broadening our peripheral view of the world and its politics. However, as it happens, a great fraction of this information is false or presented by people who are not experts, but just users of instagram, a public platform on which anyone can say, in just one click, whatever they want, whether it be wrong or right. This is the problem with social media. Once everyone is allowed to post whatever they want on these platforms, the content of people's blogs, and even online communities, becomes unregulated. Even those of you with the noblest intentions, can become victim to this manipulative chain of fake information, and then to make matters worse, spread the lie yourself.
Serious issues such as vaccination are being affected by these retold lies which grow into terrifying conspiracy theories, urging users to listen to these prejudiced and completely false inventions rather than the truth. Recently, with Covid-19, some feared the invented effects of the vaccine that were talked about on these platforms to such an extent, that they decided not to vaccinate their families, more fearful of a conspiracy theory than of the real thing. Then, once they realised their mistake, it was too late and people have died as as a result. Had it not been for these horror stories, these people could have lived; social media’s ideas literally killed them.
Worse still is the bullying. Although thousands of users use the information provided on these sites to educate themselves, many others use it to attack minorities, or criticise and attack innocent strangers. This endless pool of information has made us become a vicious mob, subverting democracy, and destroying people's self-esteem, courage, and strength through online attacks. Personally, I have to admit that I do enjoy reading attacks on people. How many of us have not enjoyed a post that ridicules an individual? We ought to be ashamed. No, do not deny it; we are all victims of this destructive force that pushes us towards the desire to hurt, fomenting "Poster's brain" (a condition that makes users attack others). Even the most noble of us cannot escape the current of attacks that flows like a flooded river through the internet.
Now, all around the world, you see the internet’s devastating effects. It is children especially who should be enjoying their youth that suffer from online criticisms and cyber bulling, made victims by anonymous aggressors. The number of suicides and depression amongst children has risen drastically, not to mention the numerous racial and cultural attacks in public and private places.
Is this really what we want?
Social Media Tech overlords understand its iniquity. Countless reports convey the notion that those in power realise the dangers of social media, and so prohibit their own children from engaging on these countless platforms. They protect them and send them out into nature, to see the real world whilst they pedal their appalling wares, profiting astronomically from these platforms. I am afraid this is the blunt reality encountered by the majority of us nowadays.
Our reality is virtual. Our hope, our trust, our role models, all come from there, from this endless pool of information sent often by those who vomit out their loathing at the world. No, I am not criticising you, I am merely opening your eyes to the hidden realities behind your screen. I urge you to recognise the terrors that inhibit our society, and understand the dangers that are creeping towards us. Please, believe me, you do not have any real control about what you do on social media. It controls you - utterly.
Isabela R, Year 12
Image: By Tony Webster - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=31527545