by Nicola Sagay
Social Media is the collection of online communities dedicated to community-based input and collaborations (Rouse, 2018) Examples of Social Media websites are Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. The world is more connected than ever. With people spending on average of 50 minutes a day on Facebook alone in 2016 this topic is critical. More than one-sixteenth of the average user’s waking time is spent on Facebook (Stewart, 2018) The next coming generation is set to spend even more time on Social Media than their predecessor. How we shop, date, network and exercising our right to activism has been revolutionised. Therefore, evaluating the demerits and merits of Social Media is crucial. The initial presumption of this essay is Social Media has overall had an adverse effect. Adverse effect defined as a loss of social cohesion and poor outcomes. This essay will explain my presumption in the first section, and the latter section will discuss arguments against my hypothesis.
This section will defend the presumption that Social Media has had an adverse effect. Almost all Social Media sites have the deep-learning software. The software is designed to make you spend more time on the site. The data trail left by Social Media users is a goldmine. The more time spent, the more data. From this, it can now become evident why Social Media is addictive as it is designed to be so (Mahdawi, 2018) Unknowingly we are guided by recommendation algorithms showing users more of what they want to see. Producing a personalised customer experience with personalised music playlists, tv recommendations and even newspapers (Hosanagar, 2014 p. 805).
The problem with Social Media is that by doing so, it creates a bubble, a “ safe space” in which like-minded people are unknowingly trapped inside space which does not challenge their assumptions by these algorithms. They are more likely only to hear one side of the argument that reaffirms their opinions. These “bubbles” push groups towards more extreme opinions. Therefore, it was not shocking to hear individuals say they had not met anyone who was voting opposite to them in the Brexit Referendum in 2016. The personalised news source becomes a “self-reinforcing news flow” as Donovan states (Donovan, 2016) This leads to extreme views festering, leading to a loss of social cohesion as people are less likely to try and understand other views leading to polarised politics and divided countries.
Moreover, Social Media news is mostly unregulated, and news articles that are false are not hard to come by. They provide citizens with information that is false to distort these views from making an impact. Fake News encourages an emotional reaction using misleading headlines. Crouch argues this leads to a poor public decision rather than them genuinely ruling themselves not allowing their view to impact appropriately (Offe 2009, p.556) This essay agrees the view that people will make decisions based on incorrect information which will hinder their opinions enacting change.
Thus, Social Media has had an adverse effect overall.
This section of the essay will outline the arguments against my presumption. Social Media has not led to a loss of social cohesion. It has given another channel for activism to occur (Aaker et al.,2017 p.21) It has brought people together and has changed the views of others to more sympathetic. For instance, The ALS ice bucket challenge raised money for causes to help people with ALS. “ALS is an incurable, progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord resulting in the loss of control of muscle movement”. They were able to raise more than US$115 million, improving the lives of many (Shaw 2015, p. 28) This is one of many, people have raised money for good causes such as breast cancer or the building of a new school via using Social Media which tends to be used for mindless leisure rather than activism
Social Media offers education for citizens to make informed, meaningful decisions with well-developed views. Social Media often highlight and make known to the public issues in they would not have known. Allowing citizens to form opinions on situations such as EU membership and use these views to lobby and put pressure on their local Representative. Social media gives people the opportunity to get new ideas out to the public, arguably popping archaic “bubbles”, challenging conventions and traditions. In this way, it can be said that Social Media does not undermine citizens views to impact policy.
However, the conditions of arguments rely on Social Media providing meaningful information to host productive debates. They tend not offer this information and over sensualize the political discussion (Crouch 2004, p. 47) However, it must be said that Fake News is not foreign to other sources of media; it has been around since the beginning of history. The deliberate manufacturing of false news has occurred since before the invention of the printing press (Stepman, 2018) Fake News is not the problem of Social Media but a reminder of human nature. The problem is with the coupling of Fake News and Social Media. The potential and scope in which you can connect with people on Social Media are exponential. Once a story is published, it is hard to stop the impact.
In this section, I have shown the broad scope of social media worsens its effects on collective political decisions making and radicalises individuals, leading to a loss of social cohesion and poor outcomes.
To conclude, this essay has defined adverse outcomes as loss of social cohesion, inability to produce good outcomes but if not described as this it may be more favourable to Social Media. Regardless, Social Media comes with “baggage”, both merits and demerits. Social Media has undoubtedly led to more activism, but its effects are also harmful. Social Media has to some extent influence to herds like mentality, loss of social cohesion and extremism. Whether we like it or not Social Media is here to stay. Governments must engage in more policies to lessen the negative effects that Social Media produces.
- Aaker, J.L., Smith, Andy & Adler, Carlye, 2010. The dragonfly effect quick, effective, and powerful ways to use Social Media to drive social change, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.Brock, George, 2017. Boy in the filter bubble. New Statesman, 146(5372), pp.1 – 23.
- Crouch, C. (2004). Post-Democracy (Polity);
- Donovan, P., Guest post: Brexit in the echo chamber. FT.com, pp.FT.com, Jun 29, 2016.
- Hosanagar, K. et al., 2014. Will the Global Village Fracture Into Tribes? Recommender Systems and Their Effects on Consumer Fragmentation. Management Science, 60(4), pp.805–823.
- Mahdawi, A. (2018). AntiSocial Media: why I decided to cut back on Facebook and Instagram. The Guardian. [online] Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2018/jan/01/antisocial-media-why-decided-cut-back-facebook-instagram [Accessed 2 Jan. 2018].
- Offe, C. (2009). “Governance: An ‘Empty Signifier’?” Constellations, 550–562.
- Rouse, M. (2018). What is Social Media ? – Definition from WhatIs.com. [online] WhatIs.com. Available at: http://whatis.techtarget.com/definition/social-media [Accessed 10 Jan. 2018].
- Shaw, G., 2015. Follow the Money: The Ice Bucket Challenge raised big bucks on Social Media . Now, the ALS Association tells us where that cold, hard cash is going. Neurology Now, 11(1), pp.26–33.
- Stepman, J. (2018). The History of Fake News in the United States. The National Interest, [online] p.1. Available at: http://The History of Fake News in the United States [Accessed 10 Jan. 2018].
- Stewart, J. (2016). Facebook Has 50 Minutes of Your Time Each Day. It Wants More.. [online] Nytimes.com. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/06/business/facebook-bends-the-rules-of-audience-engagement-to-its-advantage.html [Accessed 10 Jan. 2018].
NOTE: This is a an article that took part in our Essay Writing Competition. It was selected to be one of the essays that compete for the second prize. Congratulations!
Name: Nicola Sagay
School: University of Manchester
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