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Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The Two Faces of Social Media: Is It Expanding or Limiting People’s Potential?

People are using social media for numerous reasons, which include communicating with other people, staying informed about the most important events, meeting new people, connecting with peers and collaborators, and many other conveniences. The Internet is becoming an inevitable part of our existence, to the extent that many people are relying on social networks for any information they want to discover. Social media help us get correct information and improve our connections with people we know and don’t know, but they also distort the meaning of true friendships and affect the level of truthfulness of the information we receive.

The first benefit emphasized in all research papers that explore the phenomenon of social media, is the feeling of staying connected. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and similar platforms allow us to preserve the relations even when miles and oceans separate us from our closest friends and relatives. That is made possible through online chats and posts that connect us to one another. The latest research paper on social media published by Pew Research Center indicates that 62% of all American adults use Facebook. 70% of these individuals are highly active on this social media platform, saying they log on daily. Their main motif is staying informed about the latest news, as well as the lives of their friends. In addition, social media helps people make new connections with individuals with whom they share common interests.

The second great benefit of social media is its potential to inform us about any event in our neighborhood, town, state, country, or foreign countries. All online news agencies maintain their presence on social media platforms, since they enable them to reach out to a greater audience and keep a greater number of people informed about the news they cover. The power of social networks, in terms of informing the world about current events, is much greater than the capacity of traditional printed media. The greatest advantage of social media is their independence. All users and news agencies have the right to serve their content, and an individual user can access the most accurate and reliable information that will serve as the basis for his own conclusions.

The freedom of using social media is their greatest value, but it’s also part of the problem. In an era of constant Internet communication, the consumers are spending entire days in front of the screen. They follow, read, share, and publish content that becomes accessible to thousands of users in a very short period of time. The race for clicks and likes leads to so-called click baits, which lure the users to visit a website that does not offer the information people expected from the title. Once shared online, the information is being shared with millions of people from all around the world. Unfortunately, the news are often being distorted, manipulated, and abused. In an era when social media addiction has come to the extent where the user is ready to agree with everything he found ‘with a simple click’, liberal access to information is very dangerous.

A research paper published in 2010 examines the role of social media after the Haiti Earthquake. U.S. government agencies relied on social media technologies as the main mechanisms of sharing information. This system proved to be very effective in attracting volunteers, who made great contributions to reduce the damage people from Haiti suffered. Although the usage of social media comes with disadvantages, especially when individuals and agencies share distorted information, these platforms still remain very effective in terms of getting informed and staying connected with people from all around the world.