Has Social Media Lost it's Way?

Posted: 2020-05-31

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Social media: it is both a great and terrible thing.

In hindsight, it seems inevitable that the social media became the juggernaut it is. Even before Myspace and, eventually, Facebook came to the fore, you had Friendster, Friends Reunited, you could even argue MSN messenger was a progenitor for much of what comes standard with social media today. As soon as the internet became readily available to all – remember the good old days of dial up? – it was only a matter of time before it was used to connect with others around the world.

The issue, however, is not with what social media stands for – the premise is really quite brilliant – but rather the people using it. To explain:

Think, for a moment, on genuine face to face interaction. In person, social contact is very different to being behind a keyboard. It is a fact that over 60% of communication is non-verbal so it’s not just what is said but how it’s said through inflection, facial expressions, gestures, etc, that allows we as people to fully grasp the speaker’s and listener’s mood and intention.

Now, while this has been mitigated somewhat in recent years with the birth of emojis and voice recording in place of standard text messaging, much of the time it is difficult to ascertain basic tone when merely reading words. How many times have you sent or received a message that reads far more brash or terse than intended? This may not be too bad if the person you’re messaging knows you well enough but what if they don’t? There’s not face to face interaction to fall back on.

This faceless form of communication has given rise to something far worse however: the internet troll. Have you ever worked in customer service, where you have a received an email that is deeply confrontational, yet when you speak to the customer in person, they’re perfectly amiable? Behind the keyboard, it is much easier and safer to allow yourself to succumb to your inner Karen without the worry of physical repercussions.

The internet troll is just that but much, much worse. While most people will use social media in the way it’s intended, or even engage in some light banter or debate, the troll sees a platform to spread their venom and attack those that disagree. Just look at modern fandom within entertainment. It’s not enough to state that you dislike something, you must attack those personally involved. For example, look at Kelly Tran who played a major supporting role in The Last Jedi. She eventually deleted her social media accounts after receiving threats of rape and murder. Her transgression? For being a diverse character in a polarising piece of fiction.

Fortunately, while stories such as these are disgusting, social media platforms have taken steps in recent years to tackle this type of venom. On twitter and Facebook, key words or phrases trigger warnings and if you receive so many of them your account is either suspended or banned. Instagram has taken steps to supply helplines for users who search for, say, posts about suicide or extreme weight loss programs. It’s not perfect – how do moderators determine what is merely a differing opinion compared to fringe hate speech – but in a world where worldwide communication is easy and instant, there will never be a completely perfect system.

So, has social media lost its way? I don’t think so. It’s trying to be the best it can be in a time where fractious discourse is more prevalent than it was ten years ago. Ultimately, just be good to each other. Facebook and twitter exist for us, so treat one another how you wish to be treated.