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The paradox of Social Media

by PeakCare on 6th April 2011

Home -> Articles -> 2011 -> April -> The paradox of Social Media

Andy Gibson: Mind Apples from iriss on Vimeo.

Yesterday I sat down to write a blog post about the challenges of social media at 10:30 in the morning. By 4:30 I had written over 1000 words and I was no closer to finishing the post than when I started. Every challenge of social media I attempted to extrapolate had an equal positive spin. The more I wrote the more confused I became. The challenges of social media did not sit with me. Trying to identify the challenges of social media is a paradox. It is like trying to identify whether we ourselves are innately good or bad. It’s an age old question, good versus evil, and not only is it not an easy question, its also intensely subjective.

Presently, there is a lot of discourse in traditional media about the negative attributes of social media. Almost daily there are reports about how people are misusing social media for absolutely horrible purposes. I wanted to write a blog that acknowledges the anxiety that exists in the community about social media. To me it is important to discuss the potential issues and challenges of using social media before we begin to use it. I feel that ethically we have a responsibility to explore the potential harm that can be created through using social media. SoI wrote about challenges of online safety, access, social media literacy, workload and privacy. Each one became a huge deconstruction. The conclusion I formed was that social media is not to blame for how it is used. Social media is the tool. It’s how people use social media that is the concern.

Discourse blaming social media for society’s ills is inaccurate. The focus on social media being bad misses the mark about the issues it is being blamed for. Issues of identity theft, child pornography, bullying and pro-ana websites are very concerning issues that need to be addressed. However these are not new issues nor are they the fault of social media. These are issues about how people use social media.

Social media is not bad anymore than a rock on the ground is bad. If the rock is picked up and thrown at someone does that mean the rock becomes bad? My opinion is that the rock is not bad even if it hits a person in the head. To me the action of the person throwing the rock is the harmful issue. The focus should not be on how bad social media is. The focus should be on the actions of people using social media.

The paradox of social media is part of a much greater paradox – the paradox that exists when human beings create technology. The video above discusses how we have created technologies throughout time without the true concept of their impact .Throughout history human beings have been creating technology to make life easier. We created knives to hunt, printing presses for information, the car to cover great distances quickly and mobile phones to communicate on the run. Our list of technologies is endless.

Every concern I wrote about yesterday had an equally positive attribute. An example of this is online identity theft. A lot of people are concerned about giving credit card details out online because those details may get stolen. This is a concern. At the same time though, I and many others, have been using credit cards online for years without an issue. Does that mean that my positive experience of using my credit card over the internet is more legitimate than a person’s experience of having their details stolen over the internet? And therein lays the paradox.

The only potential concerns I managed to extrapolate from my writing yesterday were two questions:

Is social media making issues such as child abuse, mental health, homelessness, poverty, bullying ect more prevalent?

Does more harm exist if an issue occurs through social media than in another setting?

I don’t have answers to those questions.

I think we need to sit with the uncertainty. I feel that blaming social media for issues that exist in society is missing the point. I think that rather than trying to fight social media we need to begin to model how to correctly use social media for good. A lot of people are doing amazing things with social media and we can too. We need to address the issues that appear in social media just like we would address an issue if it were to occur in another setting. Blaming the tool for issues we are all responsible for? Isn’t that allowing for those issues to perpetuate?

Matthew Ross – Social Work Student, on placement with PeakCare