From the first recognisable social media site “Six Degrees”, made in 1997, up to the modern updates in popular social media networks that we use on a daily basis, platforms such as these are often heralded as one of the greatest inventions of the 20th century (much to the dismay of many disgruntled parents); they allow mass, global communication, and, as Ronson said, they “gave a voice to voiceless people”. Surely, with such achievements, they are worthy of this title? An outsider looking at the situation from a distance would no doubt agree, blinded by the blaring benefits of social media; however, when we look closer and delve deeper into the complex, twisting world of technology, we can see the more sordid, even dangerous sides of social media, which large corporations try desperately to cover up.
As an avid user of multiple social media networks, I cannot deny that they have many noticeable benefits; I can talk to my friends in Germany, keep in touch with friends who have moved halfway across the world, all from the comfort of my own home, barely having to lift a finger. Although some could argue that such behaviour fosters a lazy generation who are overly reliant on technology, leaving them bereft of crucial life lessons, others would insist that computers have advanced, and that the human race needs to progress with it, or risk getting left behind in an increasingly technological world. Another great thing about social media is the opportunities in the employment sector which it creates; 45% of the world’s population are social media users, and in Britain alone that statistic stands at 67%, making it a massive industry, which, as it develops, consistently opens up new jobs. In addition to all these global advantages, there are extremely important benefits that affect people on a personal level; as Ronson mentions, “it gave a voice to voiceless people”. Such an effect can be seen in the noticeable increase in confidence adolescents experience when they are online; in the virtual world of social media, they can create a new identity and be anyone they want to be, and, as they hide behind their phone screens, nobody will ever know the truth. Furthermore, it is clearly easier to type your true feelings down as a message to send rather than utter them from mouth, especially when, like me, you are extremely shy and have trouble conveying meaning on the spot; through social media, you never have to see the effect of your words, which allows the “voiceless people”, who would ordinarily be too timid to voice their thoughts, to speak their mind. In addition to this, a “voice” could be provided in the confidence that comes with ‘likes’ when a picture is posted on Facebook or Instagram, which is a feeling of assurance equal to that of receiving many small compliments. This increase in boldness allows previously insecure people to feel slightly braver and more confident, which can begin to reflect in real life as a lighter mood or improved mental well-being.
Despite the increased confidence many “voiceless people” receive from social networks, the negative effects of them are almost overwhelming in their numbers. Although many people now have a voice to express their real feelings, social media also provides a whole new platform for bullies to target victims, and without the confidence of confidentiality of identity which social media hands out, many of these bullies would not even act against their victims in real life. Furthermore, due to the global scale of such forums, social media users can be targeted by cyber bullies whom they have never met before, and who perhaps do not even live on the same continent. In addition to this, the system of ‘Followers’ on many forums renders many childhood lessons essentially futile; we listen to our parents when they warn us “not to talk to people you don’t know”, yet this idea is practically thrown out the window when we let complete strangers follow us on social media, creating all kinds of potential danger, all in some pointless effort to gain online popularity. Although most platforms allow users to block others who are acting inappropriately, it cannot be denied that social media giants, such as Snapchat and Instagram, are not doing enough to prevent attacks from happening in the first place; figuring out solutions to this problem should be at the forefront of these companies’ focus, as cyber bullying can create long-lasting mental health problems, and is often harder to spot among young children than physical bullying, especially since the age limits of social networks are seldom adhered to, so this problem affects children from a range of ages. Moreover, as younger children can easily access social media, they are exposed from a young age not only to advertising, but also to unrealistic body expectations; due to seeing edited, fake pictures of models all over Instagram, young children have a clear idea of what is “beautiful”, or at least what is considered pretty by societal norms. As these images are ultimately unachievable and impossible — rather they are lies formed by flashy corporations to sell their clothing lines — from a very young age teenagers consistently question their own looks, resulting in a reduction in self-confidence, which consequently has a negative effect on mental health. As mentioned earlier in the essay, social media allows people, who perhaps are insecure, to create new identities and take confidence in their second, online lives; however, these forums equally allow anyone to create a false identity, which they can use to befriend people who do not know them, and then perhaps trick or deceive them. This incredibly dangerous side of social media can have consequences that range greatly in severity; from economic fraud, to the tragic case of the Blue Whale Challenge in 2016.
To conclude, although social media undoubtedly gives great amounts of confidence and boosts self-assurance among those who need it, it also gives a voice to those who use this freedom inappropriately to deprecate others and harm other peoples’ mental health. It cannot be denied that social network platforms have great benefits, employing a large workforce, revolutionising communication, and helping provide confidence; however, the outstanding negative consequences of giving “a voice” to everyone outweighs the positives, as it opens up a whole new world of danger and self-consciousness, and paves an easy route for cyber-bullies to target their victims. The empowering ability of social media to allow us to say what we really think, also causes us to ask the question: is the voice behind our network accounts really ours, or are we merely adhering to mass opinions, driven by peer pressure?