Social media: Friend or Foe?


internet has opened up a whole new world of learning and has advanced the nation in many ways; connecting families and friends around the globe, allowing businesses to flourish, instantaneous availability of breaking news across continents and giving millions of people access to a host of information which would otherwise have been unreachable.

As usual though, with the benefits come downfalls and when we look at the effects social media is having on our young it is difficult to discern whether the costs are worth it.

The area of education has most certainly been enhanced, allowing teachers to collaborate with students and use a diverse range of teaching tools and information. It allows students access to valuable online resources and revision aids. Anything we want to know about, study or understand is at the tip of our fingers. Learning is no longer confined to the classrooms or libraries; your living room can now be your university.

However, for many students, time that should be spent on homework and assignments is often shortened as they become distracted and focus on other online activity, failing to re-engage with school work once enticed into one of the sites.

Several studies highlight the amount of time taken out from studying to attend to messages and posts. There is also the concern of the opportunities for plagiarism or cheating as students can easily steal material from the internet and try to pass it off as their own work without understanding the lesson or content.

Access to medical sites also has their advantages and disadvantages. Whilst young people have a route to confidential advice and information regarding adolescence, development and mental health anxieties, freedom to publish on the internet or on social media sites means that information is not vetted and inaccuracies are frequently accepted as sound information. This encourages amateur medical advisors and self-diagnosis of health problems, which can be dangerous and life-threatening.

People, especially the young, are often too open and public with personal information when online. Identity theft is a huge criminal industry that despite evolving security measures, matches advances step by step. Also resultant of failure to guard personal information is perhaps the most worrying to us all; the sexual predators that frequent the internet and find, stalk, groom and assault victims using social media sites. Despite the cautions regularly reiterated to our young people, the gullibility or naivety which exists can expose them to real dangers and has regrettably too often ended in terrible circumstances.

Cyber-bullying is commonplace online. The ease with which bullies can access, negatively communicate and spread rumours about a person causes emotional trauma, and sometimes even leads to suicide. There are huge numbers of young people who make poor judgement posts, whether a private message to perceived friends or pictures of a sexual nature to a boyfriend/girlfriend, which leave an electronic footprint forever available.

Once these pictures or messages are shared they are irretrievable and the repercussions of such events have led vulnerable youths to mental health worries and even suicide.

Disturbingly, a term coined “Facebook depression” has been evident in many people and is as real as any other mental health challenge. Not only are suffers affected by emotional difficulties such as low self-esteem reflective of the number of “likes” they receive and the amount of “Friends” they have, but also by the detrimental effects of use of the internet has on their interpersonal skills.

It is not uncommon to see a group of young people together on their phones and discover that they are in fact texting or messaging each other when they are close enough to reach out and touch each other.

Young people’s often limited capacity for self-regulation has developed into over-use and over-reliance on the internet, leading to sleep deprivation and all its associated problems. Data from studies show that shockingly, some people spend more time online than they do sleeping!

Although the internet has undoubtedly opened the world for us all and offers untold benefits, the price our young people are paying is high. Are we as a society becoming more concerned with Facebook “friends” than we are with the real people we should be interacting with face-to-face?

Are we giving young people access to some of the terrors of society we need to be shielding them from? Will we damage the relational capacity that is human nature if we do not find a way to limit this preferred way of communication?