December 5, 2017
There’s no doubt about it: social networking has changed the way we live our lives. We’re more connected than ever before, but we’re also under more pressure to use the hottest apps and to follow the latest trends. Meanwhile, any little mistake can be blown out of proportion, and you could accidentally find yourself going viral in a heartbeat – even if you weren’t trying to.
The problem is that, thanks to social media’s relative infancy, we’re still deciding as a culture how to deal with all sorts of new issues, from privacy arguments to what happens to our profiles after we die.
Meanwhile, a new study has found that children would be happy if social media didn’t exist, with over half of them experiencing abuse or having their confidence knocked by websites. In fact, two-thirds of schoolchildren said they’d feel happy if it had never been invented and 71 percent of them had followed in the footsteps of celebrities like Ed Sheeran and the Kardashians by taking a break from social networking altogether. Several studies have also found a link between increased social networking use and a higher incidence of anxiety and depression.
This might come as a surprise to some people, because the popular perception is that youngsters are glued to their phones and obsessed with taking selfies. But it’s that very perception – and the very real reality of the pressure they face to fit in – that’s pushing kids to change the way they approach technology.
The Good News
Of course, social networking isn’t all bad. You’ve probably heard stories about social media sites reuniting people after natural disasters or raising millions of dollars for charity. Even at a more basic level, it’s used by countless parents and grandparents to keep track of their children and grandchildren as they go travelling or head off to college.
Social networking is also the cause of huge numbers of relationships around the world, although it can also help to bring them to an end. Facebook alone is cited by a third of all divorced couples as one of the reasons for their split. But despite this, there are youngsters alive today who only exist in the first place because their parents were brought together by social networking sites.
Social media can indeed have a bad influence, on adults as well as on children, but it’s been some years since its introduction and it’s currently going through its adolescence and heading toward full maturity. It’s a little bit like the early days of eCommerce, when nobody shopped online because they were afraid that they’d be ripped off. Then eCommerce matured and sites like Amazon and eBay helped to legitimize it.
The same thing has started to happen on social networking sites, with people favoring quality over quantity and developing a level of savviness that just wasn’t there in the early days. Most of us now have an instinct that tells us when a piece of news is fake or when a Twitter account is just a bot that’s trying to get us to click a malicious link.
Is social networking on the wane?
The short answer is no. But let’s take a look at the long answer.
The truth is that social networking is unlikely to go out of fashion any time soon. The benefits outweigh the risks by a long shot, and as long as you take some basic precautions, then it’s easy to stay safe on social networking sites.
As with most things, education will play a huge role when it comes to preparing young minds for social networking. After all, if the trend is unlikely to disappear any time soon, the best thing we can do is to prepare people by teaching them the etiquette of social networking.
At its most basic level, this includes showing people how to take advantage of their privacy settings and explaining why it’s a bad idea to accept friend requests from people you don’t know. At a more advanced level, we’re talking about using anti-virus and anti-malware software and using sites like Snopes.com to double check whether the news stories we’re reading are true or not.
Luckily, if you use a little common sense, you should be covered. There are several general rules to apply here, including the old adage of treating other people as you wish to be treated. One great rule to teach kids – and to remember as adults – is the grandma rule, which simply boils down to “don’t post or do anything online that you wouldn’t feel comfortable saying or doing in front of your grandmother.”
The debate about whether social networking is good or bad is likely to continue, but it’s ultimately like just about everything else. As long as you – and your children – use social media sites in moderation, there’s nothing to be afraid of.
The fact that children are saying they’d be happier if social media didn’t exist isn’t necessarily an indictment of social networking sites themselves but rather the way in which we use them. The darker sides of social networking, such as bullying, scamming and the spread of misinformation, were happening offline way before they were ported to the Internet.
So if you – or your children – are worried about using social networking sites, don’t be. Just keep your software updated, double check information before you believe it and keep your privacy settings updated. And if social networking is getting you down, take a break. After all, when you’re using it correctly, it enhances your life instead of taking over it.
Toby is co-founder and CMO of Miappi.com. After completing a very useful degree in zoology, Toby started his career in media with the production of documentary films. In 2001 he started to make content for creative agencies and in 2007 he founded his own creative consultancy, The Flavour Media. Five years later, he co-founded Miappi.