In July of the year 2012, “Americans spent 74.0 billion minutes on social media via a home computer, 40.8 billion minutes via apps, and 5.7 billion minutes via mobile web browsers, a total of 121.1 billion minutes [or 2.02 billion hours] on social networking sites”, as stated in the online site Procon.org. Not only this, but “35 global heads of state, every US Cabinet agency, 84% of US state governors, every major candidate for US President, and more than 40% of top global religious leaders are on Twitter” (Procon.org), not to mention our currently active president of the United States, Donald Trump. Clearly, the influence of the media and online networking sites is widespread across the globe, from government to business to our own homes.
According to a clinical report from the American Society of Pediatrics, the term ‘social media’ can refer to “social networking sites such as Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter; gaming sites and virtual worlds such as Club Penguin, Second Life, and the Sims; video sites such as YouTube; and blogs” (O’Keeffe, Clarke-Pearson, and Council on Communications and Media 800). Undoubtedly, the reader of these words has possessed experience with several of the networks listed above at one time or another, and so have billions of others in our world today, both for the better and for the worse. So the circumstances bring up a compelling inquiry: is social networking beneficial for our society? I will attempt to provide a just response to that question. When inspecting the available evidence as a whole on both sides of the issue, it becomes apparent that there are more downsides to social media than there are upsides and that cautious measures must be taken when dealing with such online tools.
Recognizing that not everything about social networking is negative, it is necessary to temporarily concentrate on and examine the reverse side of the matter. Many in our population would agree that online sites designed for socializing and building relationships have in fact achieved their purpose, effectively facilitating the development of new friendships, the strengthening of bonds between long-standing companionships, and the growth of overall communication. Being dedicated to present accurate and nonbiased information from a myriad of sources, analysts from Procon.org (the website mentioned above) provide some convincing support for this viewpoint in their article entitled ‘Are Social Networking Sites Good for Our Society?’. The authors claim that “93% of adults on Facebook use it to connect with family members, 91% use it to connect with current friends, and 87% use it to connect with friends from the past. 72% of all teens connect with friends via social media. 83% of these teens report that social media helps them feel more connected to information about their friends’ lives, 70% report feeling more connected to their friends’ feelings, and 57% make new friends”. Proceeding to provide further insight, the article continues: “More than 25% of teens report that social media makes them feel less shy, 28% report feeling more outgoing, and 20% report feeling more confident (53% of teens identified as somewhat shy or ‘a lot’ shy in general). Youth who are ‘less socially adept’ report that social media gives them a place to make friends and typically quiet students can feel more comfortable being vocal through a social media platform used in class” (Procon.org).
And not only are the feelings there, but the results are as well, as evident in another report by reputable news corporation USA Today. The report presents the following documentation. Hailing from the University of Toronto in Canada, Barry Wellman, a sociologist who has been examining social organizations since the 1960s, co-published an analysis destined for the American Behavioral Scientist journal. Utilizing information amassed by the Center for Digital Future at the University of Southern California during the years 2002 and 2007, the analysis concentrated on 1,178 adults from 27 to 74 years of age. It determined that “adults on average had about 10 friends they meet or speak with at least weekly and a few additional friends who are online only, or who began friendships online and then met in person”. The logical implication is that “heavy Internet users have the most friends, both offline and online” (Jayson). The tall numbers and persuasive data from several experts demonstrate that networking sites do, indeed, promote social connections in daily life.
Even still, however, this isn’t the whole story. Findings from many other specialists in the field of sociology point in a different direction, indicating that sites like Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, and Snapchat actually tend to encourage a withdrawal from face-to-face interaction and to damage relationships. For instance, Procon.org editors offset the earlier declarations in their social networking report by affirming said theory: “A USC Annenberg School study found that the percentage of people reporting less face-to-face time with family in their homes rose from 8% in 2000 to 34% in 2011. 32% reported using social media or texting during meals instead of talking with family and friends”. And, still more shocking, “10% of people younger than 25 years old respond to social media and text messages during sex. Researchers have found that ‘active Twitter use leads to greater amounts of Twitter-related conflict among romantic partners, which in turn leads to infidelity, breakup, and divorce’”. Maybe our social networking hubs aren’t as harmless as first believed. Presumably, according to these quotes, it can be gleaned that networking sites have the potential to stifle unity in families, cause separation in friendships, and even induce a lack of attention between romantic partners.
But the discord doesn’t stop there. “31% of teens who use social media have fought with a friend because of something that happened online”, the authors continue. “A 2016 study found that overuse of social media as an adolescent may decrease success in relationships later in life as online communication hinders the development of conflict management skills and awareness of interpersonal cues. One study found that the more Facebook friends a person has, the more stressful Facebook is to use” (Procon.org). So it’s perceived that not only do online networking sites dampen our future potential, but they also cause the population to become sucked up in the constant warfare of attempting to satisfy their many associates. In the process, people “retreat behind the digital veil”, as Lisa Selin Davis from Time magazine phrases it in her article about Facebook’s effects on communication in the outside world. The common fear of personal interaction, she says, “started long before the Internet existed, with the advent of answering machines. ‘People would call a phone when they knew the other person wasn’t available to pick up. It enabled them to convey information without forcing them to interact’”. Davis garnered her information on the subject from Charles Steinfield, a professor at Michigan State University, though she also begins her article with personal experience, expressing her friend Jenny’s absence of response to phone calls for nearly a year. Later on she clarifies that the silence was chiefly due her colleague’s hectic calendar and that Facebook has provided a gateway for speedy conversation between the two; nonetheless, she fears society today may be too dependent on this form of communicating. “[She] can’t help wondering: If for some reason Facebook suddenly ceased to exist, would people like Jenny revert to phone calls or visits, or would they lose touch altogether?”. Such is the question we must ask ourselves about the tempting adherence to our computer screens. By shrinking away from reality and into cyberspace, maturity and social skills are hampered and weakened at the core.