Unless you’re a proper stick in the mud, I think we can all see the benefits of social media. Not the nonsense about speaking to old schoolfriends because honestly who wants to know what Jane from year 9 is feeding her kids today? Oh wow Turkey dinosaurs you must be a really special and interesting person.
Social media satisfies our need for instantaneous gratification. Why wait until tomorrow to call up a plumber or a tattoo artist for a quote? Send them a quick DM. Fancy buying someone’s second hand used crap? Pop over to Facebook. You don’t even need to go on Pornhub anymore because there’s a whole world of it on Twitter. These, and the many other benefits are why social media has taken the world by storm. How often is it you see a plumber’s van without his Facebook/Twitter information on it?
But there’s that darker side to social media which only now is starting to show itself to the masses. I’d like to highlight what I believe to be the top 5 problems with social media, some of which get overlooked. Well they’re the top 5 that have irritated me today anyway.
1.) Mental health effects
I want to preface this by saying, I am not a mental health expert. These are the opinions I have formed based on things I have seen and people I have spoken to and this one is aimed primarily at kids/teens but really can go for anyone. When I was a wee lad at school I had a lesson where they showed us magazine covers and explained that the women on them were airbrushed to make them look beautiful (By a teacher who looked like a goblin and there was clearly a degree of resentment but that’s another story.) The moral of the lesson was to teach us kids not to feel worthless because we don’t look as good as the people on magazine covers.
Flash forward to today. I pop onto my twitter and notice several selfies in the top tweets of the day. Oh it’s some random nobody with a nice jawline who spends money getting their eyebrows waxed getting thousands of likes and being treated like they’re a celebrity. All well and good for them I suppose, nice confidence boost and a bit of validation. But for the many other people who post their selfies (a word I despise) and get no attention? The lack of validation leads them to feel lesser. This doesn’t go for everyone of course, I’ve never really given a shit about how I look and I’m sure many others are the same, but for some they do feel insecure and they do crave that validation.
I’ve seen the cancerous effects of social media affecting peoples mental health work in two ways. Firstly, it led a friend of mine to have real self-confidence issues because they weren’t getting as many likes as others, which led them into a struggle to see themselves as anything other than ugly and begin to consider cosmetic surgery. No matter what you say to them, there’s always someone with designer stubble being treated like a celebrity, who knew so many worked at McDonald’s? Secondly, the lack of validation causes people to post more risqué content, because if they don’t like the face – surely, they’ll like AND retweet what’s below? There’s even a thing for that now, OnlyFans, once you’re accustom to gaining validation on your back you might as well get some money for it.
The important thing there being the lack of validation? Prior to social media where did insecure people go for validation? Friends and family. Now with the advent of social media, you’re subject to a sea of anonymous judges who are more than happy to tell you you’re an ugly cunt. For a middle-aged balding bloke that probably won’t be much of an issue. But for impressionable, insecure kids – that can have devastating effects.
2.) Echo Chambers and the lack of debate
With the influx of voices on social media comes the wonderful ability to block, you can even find yourself on one of the noted block lists and wind up blocked by people you’ve never even interacted with. Not a problem if you’re blocking someone who never misses an opportunity to wind you up, or someone you just can’t stand. But mass blockings and the attempt to ‘sanitise’ social media platforms leads to the wonderful, congratulatory echo chambers.
Congratulations, your opinions are the right ones. You are the virtuous one. You are on the right side of history. All those people who challenge you are just vile trolls who are (Insert)ists or (Insert)phobes. We don’t need to engage in debate with them, because we are right.
Except you’re not. Wherever you go you come across people, seemingly intelligent, knowledgeable people who for reasons I can only guess at reach a point in their lives when they decide to arbitrarily close their minds to anything new. People who make it a point of personal pride to scoff, mock and ridicule anyone who dares to question their firm beliefs.
The only way to learn is to keep your mind open to the input of those who are more knowledgeable than yourself. That does not mean that Donald Trump is more knowledgeable than you. But it means keeping your mind open to that possibility. The old ‘stopped clock is right twice a day’. Basically, what that means is, listen to what the people you disagree with are saying if you want any argument against them to carry any weight.
But beyond even that. Your words on social media are viewed by more than just the person to whom you’re dishing out insults to. It’s seen by people who won’t speak up because they can’t be bothered having you attack them. Do you think “okay boomer” wins them over to your side? If you hold these firm beliefs and you want to persuade people to think like you then you have to engage in debate. To engage in debate, you need to do it from a point of mutual respect, in most cases, if you want to win people over to your side. Recent elections in the US and UK have shown that the tactics of ‘debate’ engaged in on social media win all the likes, and none of the votes.
3.) ‘Influencers’ Influencing
Another term I despise. ‘Influencer’. But it’s fairly accurate. As social media has grown, companies and politicians turn to social media to get a sense of the mood of the country. What direction should we take our policies? What do people care about right now? Just one problem with that. At the time of writing there are around 67 million people living in the UK. There are (as of Feb 2020) 13.7 million Twitter accounts registered in the UK. That seems like a good gauge right? Surely it has to be better than YouGov polls of a few thousand people? Well, no.
Many of the 13.7 million UK accounts will be inactive and, of those that remain, many – if not the majority are left leaning. So you begin to see a problem with anyone shaping the direction of their company, or government policy based on things on Twitter. Social Media is not an accurate gauge of the UK general population. Elderly people are more likely to vote for the conservative party and are far less likely to be found on twitter. Young people are the exact opposite.
You only need to look back at the 2019 UK General election to see proof of this. All the Twitter polls were calling it a massive labour win. All the Twitter folk went to bed nice and happy ready for their brighter tomorrow and woke up to one of the worst labour defeats ever.
4.) Cancel Culture and Guilty Until Proven Innocent
We could do an entire book on this. Social media is trial by fire. If you are found to hold the wrong opinions, the people on social media won’t just try to have you banned. They’ll try for your job, take away your income. Which is fine right? You can always get another job? Except you’ve been publicly vilified and no company wants to associate themselves with you. So no job, looks like you’ll be defaulting on your mortgage and losing your house. LOL ZOMFG.
Your life, everything you’ve worked so hard towards can be torn away from you in a matter of hours by people who don’t know you, don’t really care about what you’ve said or done and who in two weeks wont even remember your name. If someone who gets ‘cancelled’ decides to take their own life, half of these people wont even realise they have blood on their hands.
Your digital footprint can span years back. I joined twitter in 2012 and god knows what I’ve posted in that time. A drunk tweet at 3am can now ruin your life. Just think about that, you’re pissed, you’re tired, you’re scrolling through twitter before you pass out and you make one poorly thought comment. But no one cares about that context, because that comment is extrapolated to PROVE that you are an evil person who deserves the worst punishment ever – 2020’s answer to tarring and feathering.
Freedom of speech is not just your ability to hold any opinion and speak it in a quiet place while alone. It’s the freedom of expression with the protection from persecution, and it comes with a cost. That cost is listening to opinions you find offensive, idiotic and deranged. Platforms like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube make their own rules and they do have the right to silence you if they don’t like you, it’s a shitty thing to do but they can. But no one should be cancelled for having ‘controversial’ opinions on transgender issues, or race or whatever today’s hot topic is, but as things stand now, online you certainly can be.
I often wonder why people find opposing viewpoints so offensive. Is it that you’re so insecure about the merits of your own point of view that you don’t want anyone to hear the opposition, in case they turn out to be right? If so, open your mind and go do some research. Don’t believe people on social media – look it up for yourself, strengthen your argument. Give yourself the confidence to face down opposing views with facts, not attacks and if they fight back with facts and evidence of their own – Read it and tell them why they’re wrong.
When it comes to social media all it takes is an accusation of any wrongdoing to potentially ruin someone. There’s a reason the legal system is so complex – Because we get things wrong. Sometimes people turn out to be innocent. But it is a testament to the instant gratification people seek that a simple accusation can, and often is taken as absolute proof of guilt and let the cancellation begin!
5.) The Loudest Voices Are Usually The Nutters.
We all sometimes think that the world is just going crazy. We’re heading for the abyss, send in the meteor. Truth is a little more complex than that in my view. Yes, absolutely things are getting worse, but not as dramatically as it seems. Things are just more visible. Go on Twitter and write “TERF’s should just shut up” and you’ll get a bit of traction. Post “TERF’s Should be fucking murdered” and you’ll get a lot of traction. Twitter has 330 million users and the loudest, most outrageous voices always float to the top. That’s what everyone sees, that’s what we use to judge our daily dose of insanity.
But log off and nip down to the shops, chat with people at the bus stop. You’ll find they’re mostly the same as they always have been. There are nutters yes, I once met a man who tried to convince me he was abducted by aliens who put a 50p coin in his throat, but they’re the minority. Sensible, rational people are the majority and in real life that is visible. But when you’re online those rational people are lost in the sea of outrageous voices desperately crying for attention and they become – The lesser spotted silent majority.
While we’ve been locked away in our houses during this pandemic, we’ve had lots of time to sit and read the madness online. It’s why I think so many people believe things are getting worse – Because we’ve not had Jill at the bus stop and Dave at the shops to balance out the crazies online and remind us that they are the minority. Without a doubt the issues with social media are causing some of these more extreme views (left and right) to spread more. But to what extend that’s happening it’s hard to say, so is it right therefore to start enforcing crazy rules on speech to avoid that? Rules that will inevitably come back and bite us all on the arse in the end? I’ll leave that one up to you.