If you are familiar with the fictional tale of “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”, then you will understand my title choice and possible thoughts on the interplay of good and evil in social media. As I see it, social media brings to life, the fictional tale of “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”— a single individual, who somehow incorporates good and evil within his body, to the extent that he becomes a completely different person when either personality becomes the dominant character. The good side—Dr Jekyll is an adorable and lovely character but the evil side— Mr. Hyde is very sinister in nature, and remains a complete contrast to the good Dr. Jekyll. In this same way, social media has proven to exhibit both good and evil personalities which are both embodied within the same entity. While social media in itself is a good and innovative concept, it is increasingly being used for sinister motives, which may sometimes overshadow the good aspects of social media.
Since the rise of social media networking in the early 2000’s, people all around the world found themselves thrust into an era of unprecedented communication advancement. This allowed people from far ends of the world to connect with other people including, (family, friends and acquaintances) on opposite sides of the world, with a simple click of a button. From Hi five, to MySpace, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Tumbler, Snapchat, Periscope, Skype, YouTube, WhatsApp, Tango, Emails and Line etc, these unparalleled modes of communication has definitely changed the world as we know it. It is obvious how much easier and faster it is to communicate with people from around the world. Gone are the days when we were at the mercy of snail-mails that would take months to be delivered. Now we can share our thoughts and ideas at the simple click of a button. And more importantly, we can do this from virtually anywhere, be it from the comfort of our home, office, classroom, train station and airport etc.
This new age of technological advancement has also lowered the cost of communication for millions of people across the globe. Before the age of WhatsApp, most people relied on text (SMS) to send messages to their friends and family, which becomes expensive in the long run (especially if these text messages are sent internationally). But forums such as Yahoo and Facebook messenger and WhatsApp chat etc, has virtually erased the need to send SMS text messages, and this has undoubtedly lowered communication costs.
Social media has also proven to be highly informative. It has become an invaluable tool of knowledge through which people gain access to useful information. Through the use of these interactive sites, people can now learn faster than ever before about new ideas and trends that are hitting the world stage. Social media also provides an array of platforms for creative people to market their skills to the general public and also learn from others. From websites, to blogging and vlogging etc, many people can now publicly market themselves to the outside world (cutting out the middle-man like agents) and in the process, get paid for their talents. Through the use of social media, many people are now afforded innovative ways to both pass on and receive information to the world.
While social media networking has definitely helped to better society in terms of communication, it has also brought with it certain unquantifiable problems, which cannot be measured through economic or financial means. Some of these problems are felt through its impact on morality, social life and cultural cohesion.
For one, there seems to be a close link between increased use of social media and self-comparison. While this does not apply to everyone who frequents social media sites, studies do show that a lot of people tend to compare themselves and their lives to the pictures of friends, acquaintances and celebrities that they see on social networking sites. The allure of the good life, international travels, expensive cars etc, which come up on daily timelines or news feeds send some people into a social and psychological tailspin, as they feel that their lives do not “measure up” to the images they are bombarded with on these various social media sites.This nature of self-comparison may even cause some users to become consumed by jealousy and envy, and as a result they start experiencing feelings of hatred towards those who supposedly have what they aspire to have. This is very common and can even occur among friends and acquaintances, which strains relationships between such people, and cause people who were otherwise friendly to each other to become cold and distant in real life. In some cases, only one party (the one experiencing feelings of jealousy) displays hostility, which often leaves the other party oblivious of what is happening. For others, self-comparison goes a step further and may even cause depression, anxiety and self-hate, leading to all sorts of mental health problems.
The rise in the use of social media has seen the emergence of new societal sub-cultures and “rules of the game” within social media circles. Some of these sub-cultures tend to affect the overall personality of a person’s character even outside the domains of social media. An example of a new sub-culture breed by incessant use of social media is the “need” to be constantly updated with what is happening in the world of social media. This has given birth to a behaviour in which people are always on their phones, whether in private or in public, and are somewhat cut off from the outside world, but remain connected online. Almost like “technologically advanced zombies”. I term it so because while people may be with family or friends in the physical sense of the world, they remain removed emotionally and otherwise due to their constant need to be online. This new sub-culture definitely causes untold emotional and relational problems between such people and their family and friends
Social media has also introduced certain unspoken “rules of the game” with regard to interaction and networking. A “rule of the game” can be referred to as the “spoken” or “unspoken” rules that members of a social media site consciously or unconsciously adhere to. Rules of the game in social media networking place undue pressure on people to acquire as many “followers” or “friends” as possible, as this places value or importance on the person with the most number of followers. In essence, the more followers or friends a person has, the more important or valuable they are within the world of social media, which often extends to their real lives as well. Another subliminal “rule of the game” includes the practice of “liking” or “un-liking” pictures or videos to show approval or dislike. According to this rule of game, the more “likes” a picture has, the more popular the picture and by extension the person who posted it becomes, which extends value and worth to the person or people concerned. The practice of liking pictures can also be an indication of how well a person is liked or not liked within their own circle of friends and acquaintances. In essence, it can be seen as an open or subliminal way of expressing feelings of fondness (by liking) or feelings of apathy, indifference (by not liking) towards a particular person. This has definitely introduced a warped and socially unacceptable way of measuring self-worth within society.
With the bad, come the ugly aspects of social media, which can sometimes prove fatal. A particularly ugly side of social media is a phenomenon known as “cyber bullying”. Here the proverbial playground bully is replaced by an online bully, who relentlessly taunts their peers or others through the use of offensive, derogatory and/or mean language. This behaviour may even escalate to the use of derogatory imagery and other sinister online methods meant to torment other users. In some cases, cyber-bullying has even led to suicides, as victims often feel helpless and alone, and fear that the only way for the bullying to stop is for them to end their lives. Cyber bullying has become more prominent due to the form of anonymity it affords the perpetrator. Cyber bullies are sometimes referred to as “internet trolls”, because they hide behind virtual reality and post offensive messages or comments to other users, without facing repercussions for their actions.
The rise in hate speech, name-calling and all sorts of name and shame is another negative side of social media. People are now more likely than ever before to be hostile about their viewpoint, which is often expressed through the use of hate speech, name-calling and other offensive language.
Due to the nature of cyber space, it is very difficult to criminalise such offenses or make the perpetrators face repercussions for their acts. As a result, the actions of cyber bullies, internet trolls and those who partake in online “naming and shaming” continues unabated.
A few last words
This new age of technological prowess has brought invaluable gains for modern communication. People from across the world are brought together through the simple click of a button. While this has massively increased our quality of communication, it has come at a cost. We are now more distant from each other than ever before. All because we would rather interact with a stranger thousand of miles away than nurture relationships with those physically present. We are now more concerned with what happens online than with what happens in our immediate environment. We now strive to be replicas of people and celebrities that we have no business comparing ourselves to, all because social media paints a perfect picture of their lives. We now have become a community of online bullies, who taunt others just to make ourselves feel better. At this juncture, I ask, is this what the age of technological advancement has turned us into? Is this the legacy we want to leave behind for our children? You decide.