The Promise And Pitfalls Of Social Media Platforms

By: Allencia Ballard

The first social media platform, Usenet, was established in 1979, however, social media, as we know it today, was born in the explosion of the internet in the ‘80s and ‘90s.  By 2005, only a small percentage, 5%, of Americans were using social media. Today, approximately 82% of the US population is currently active and using one or more social media platforms. Globally, there are an estimated 3.6 billion social media users and that number is growing fast.

 

Benefits

Social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram are an integral part of how we connect with family, friends, customers, and businesses. When used properly and as originally intended, social media can be a vital resource for employment, e-commerce, free education, and so much more.

 

Perils and Pitfalls

One may wonder whether the benefits of social media outweigh the negative effects that some of the most popular platforms have magnified in recent years.  In recent news, social media has been called “toxic” to everyone, especially teens and girls due to studies that show high or excessive engagement through social media negatively impacts users’ mental health.

While social media can be a quick and easy resource for news and current events, the amount of misinformation, disinformation, and harmful viral trends can easily create roadblocks to reliable sources of information.  Often, just because something is trending – has a lot of likes and/or views – it is perceived by many to be true.

Popular people, called “influencers”, have thousands of followers, making it easy to reach many people at once.  When false, harmful, or dangerous images or information is shared, it often goes viral very quickly. Even if a retraction or correction is issued, far fewer people receive the retraction than the original message, so the truth never reaches the masses.

 

Algorithms

As social media users and consumers, we must understand the role we play in how information spreads and how the social media platforms we use actually work.  The “brains” of the most used and most popular sites are algorithmic content curation.

Essentially, social media platforms use algorithms to rank content for you to see (images, articles, posts, etc.) to keep you engaged and using the platform.  Often, the algorithms push out controversial content because . . . well, let’s be honest . . . unless you fell off the treadmill, no one really cares about your workout.

Controversial topics generate the most engagement through shares and reposts.  Content is also selected for you using these algorithms based upon what you tell the platform you want to see, by the things you click on.

 

Beating the Algorithms

Choosing to click on content only from reliable sources, uplifting stories, and positive images can help change the content the platform suggests to you.  If your social media presence seems bombarded with negativity, consider changing the way you participate in your algorithmic content curation.

Avoid participating in the spreading of disinformation and misinformation using these four approaches to social media use:

  1. Think before your share, repost or talk about a controversial topic.
  2. Resist the urge to reach out to others directly to discuss topics not yet proven true.
  3. Reduce the amount of time you spend consuming content via social media.
  4. If you are an influencer, be aware of the impact you could have on the lives and health of others and choose what you post wisely and accordingly.

 

The reality is that our digital lives directly intersect with our real lives, so much so that some may not be able to distinguish the two.  We must remember that the person on the other end of our post is in fact, a real person with real feelings too.

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