Monday, March 6, 2017

#223 - Anti-Social Aspects of Social Media

For several years, some have asked whether social media actually makes people antisocial. The New York Times first explored this question in 2010, visiting it again two years later.

The question of whether social media is making us more antisocial has been raised in places as diverse as car discussion forums and IBM. One informal poll on shows 77-percent of respondents believe social media makes us more antisocial.

Most of these responses and articles focus on the always-connected nature of modern society. They contend that even when people get together they often spend more time looking at and interacting with their phones than they do with one another.

In the informal poll on, some of the 23-percent who contend social media does not make us antisocial say social media "gives you a kind of boldness which is really helpful." They also cite the usefulness of social media in keeping track of distant friends and family members.

I can personally attest to both of these things. I have stayed connected and reconnected with family and friends through social media. However, I can also attest to the negative flip side of the "kind of boldness," which I don't see as being "really helpful."

My own belief, based on my own experience and anecdotal evidence from simply reading comments of others on Facebook, is that there is a sense in which social media makes us antisocial. I am not speaking of people always staring at their phones or their computers or their tablets.

The antisocial aspect of social media I refer to is the freedom it gives to people to say things to one another they would not say to another person's face. While there is a positive aspect to this freedom in that it allows everyone a voice, there are some downsides to this freedom as well.

For one thing, I personally believe social media has given rise to more questionable media/news sites, sites whose stories get more attention and are believed by more people simply because they get spread and shared on social media. As a result, trust in more conventional and mainstream sources becomes diminished.

Perhaps worse, is that people feel more free to ridicule others, call names, shame people, and even accuse them of being anti-American, anti-God, etc. simply because they see things differently. Since the election, I have been called any number of things I have never been called to my face.

Even when you know the person doing the name-calling, I think there is still a sense of anonymity (you see just the name, not their face), an electronic barrier between you and them that emboldens them (or you) to say things you likely would not say if you were in the same room together.

I recently unfriended someone on Facebook (for the first time) as a result of this sort of antisocial behavior. It was not because I disagreed with his views, although I do. It was because I was ridiculed for my beliefs and called things like "libtard," "crybaby," and "liar."

Social media makes it all too easy to get wrapped up in our emotions without the normal filters we use to keep from crossing that invisible line from passionate arguing to flat-out rudeness and disrespect. Most of us have either stepped on that line or stepped over it. I'm sure I have, although I try not to.

It is this aspect of social media that I worry about more than the image many conjure up of people always staring at their phones so as to not miss a tweet, a Facebook post, an Instagram message, or a Snapchat video. Perhaps this is a reflection of the society in which we live.

On the other hand, perhaps society has become more divided as a result of our reduced ability or willingness to filter what we say thanks to the power of social media to allow us to say whatever we want whenever we want to say it. I am beginning to lean in this direction.

For those of you who disagree and with whom I am still connected through social media, you are welcome to your opinions. Please just try to keep them civil.

Oh, and I'd appreciate it if you didn't always feel the need to scream out your opinions (through the use of ALL CAPS). Conversations are usually more fulfilling and more useful when they are two-way, and that cannot happen if one side is always yelling. My virtual ears thank you.