Social Media and New Technologies: An Attractive Risk to Society

Humans have always strived for the development of new technological devices and platforms that would allow for greater social interactions and sharing of information and ideas. For decades, people have spent hours working on the growth of platforms that would benefit the data collecting industry permitting better targeted advertisement, enhanced societal organization and faster retrieval of information. With the turning of the 20th Century, the expansion and elaboration of powerful and technological handheld devices such as iPhones and social platforms such as blogs and Facebook profiles, individuals are now encouraged to interact with each other and use multiple media formats to share photos, videos and any kind of personal information. All of this has led to an interesting concept called “social media”. According to Kaplan and Haenlein (2010), social media is “a group of Internet-based applications that builds on the ideological and technological foundations of Web 2.0, and that allows the creation and exchange of user-generated content” (p.61). While this exchange of information and ideas in virtual networks is being done, the real world suffers from its consequences. I truly believe that the use of social media and new technology brings more risk to the individual compared to the actual benefits of its use due to the false sense of communication, the lack of privacy and the effects on the human brain and body.

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Firstly, the use of social media and new technology brings more risk to the individual because it gives one a false sense of connection through the lack of communication. Indeed, according to Cornell University Steven Strogatz’s study, social media sites can make it more difficult for us to differentiate between the suggestive relationships we substitute in the real world, and the abundant casual relationships formed through social media. For example, social media has allowed us to hide behind screens and has limited our face-to-face social interactions, while increasing the digitally enhanced social connection. Thus, with the use of social platforms like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, individuals get the feeling of being social without having to actually go out and socialize. In the same way, it has allowed people to feel like they have friends without even having to put in any actual work to build the relationship. Therefore, relationships are built faster and easier than ever before, but they certainly have no depth and lack in real connectivity.

Moreover, the false sense of communication brought by the frequent use of social media leads to a wrongful use of connectivity to a criminal extent. Indeed, the imminence provided by social media is available not only to users, but to predators. Indeed, by being constantly connected, individuals are allowing perpetrators to reach out to them more easily. Actually, not so long ago, before the Internet was invented, bullies had trouble trespassing their victims’ private space since they could not get into their home. However, the rise of social media has allowed bullies to follow their victims anywhere they go, from classroom to bedroom. In fact, children and teenagers are especially vulnerable to the practice of cyber-bullying since they are the biggest users of social media platforms and handheld technological devices. Additionally, the devastation of these online attacks can leave deep mental scars and can lead to stress and offline relationship problems. Since the anonymity provided online can bring out dark impulses that might otherwise be blocked in a face-to-face context, social media platforms have definitely acted as an accomplice to all intimidators terrorizing their victims online. For example, according to the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (2012), based on 73% of reported cyber-bullying victims, “the most common form of cyber-bullying involves receiving threatening or aggressive e-mails or instant messages”. Thus, the increase of cyber-bullying and the decrease of face-to-face interactions prove that social media and new technologies are dangerous for our society by giving us a false sense of communication.

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Secondly, social networking sites and technological devices are harmful to the individuals because users’ voluntary over sharing of personal information leads to a lack of privacy. Indeed, social networking sites encourage people to be more public about their personal lives. Since intimate details of our lives can be posted so easily, users are disposed to avoid the filters they might normally use when talking about their private lives in the real world. Since social media posts cannot be completely deleted and remain available indefinitely, all information posted can have unintentional consequences such as a lack of control in who can see one’s material as well as security attacks like hacking, identity theft and viruses. Besides, this over sharing of personal information can lead to offline crimes such as home robberies which often result from the victim’s recent post about vacation plans or from a stalker gaining data about a victim’s whereabouts. For instance, according to a 2010 study from the Journal of Adolescent Health 47, 26% of online sex criminals used the victim’s social networking profile to access information about the victim’s location at a specific time.

Furthermore, not only is this over sharing damaging for an individual’s personal and professional life, this lack of privacy, through the extreme exchange of personal information, exposes users to government and corporate intrusions. Actually, since our society and the development of new technologies all rotate around the collection of data on the society itself, a new concept called surveillance society is rising, penetrating into Internet users’ personal profile. For example, according to Facebook terms and uses, when a user clicks on a Facebook like button belonging to a brand, the brand is automatically granted access to further information about the consumer such as school affiliation, workplace, gender, birthdate, sexual orientation that can all transmute into personality traits, buying behavior and mental health conditions even if none of this data was shared purposely by the user. Truly, since data mining is an algorithm, every parcel of information acquired out of context by social media platforms or governmental organization is used to formulate patterns and draw quick conclusions that can lead to dramatic and prejudicial consequences such as being on a flight restriction list, being sequestrated and interrogated or having personal computers and devices confiscated. Thus, social media and new technologies are harmful for the individuals because the increase of over sharing and government intrusion affects the individuals’ privacy.

Thirdly, the severe consequences of the increasing use of social media and new technologies overrun the actual benefits from its use due to its damaging effects on the human brain development. To begin with, heavy social media users lack in productivity mainly due to the easy and constant access to handheld technological devices such as smartphones that act as intense distractions in work environment. Actually, employees who may show more interest in what their relatives are posting than in their work related tasks are easily sidetracked by social media and technology in general. Therefore, social media entices people to waste time. For instance, when alerted by a new social networking site activity such as a new tweet or a Facebook message, users take 20 to 25 minutes on average to return to the original task they were doing when receiving the notification. Thus, social media constantly diverts our attention when it should be focused on the assigned task. This is mainly due to the FOMO syndrome, which is a prevalent angst that others might be having rewarding experiences from which one is absent. This “fear of missing out” can be characterized by the strong desire to stay continually connected with others.

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Likewise, not only is social media harmful to humans on a psychological level, but also on mental and medical levels. Indeed, the use of social media sites is correlated with personality and brain disorders, such as a need for instant gratification, narcissism, ADHD, self-centered personalities and addictive behaviors. For example, a 2008 UCLA study revealed that web users had profoundly altered prefrontal cortexes, partly due to social networking sites rewiring the brain with repeated exposure. Actually, hyper-networking which is spending more than three hours on social networks per day is associated with depression, substance abuse, suicide and poor academic performance. For instance, studies have shown that since receiving a text message signals the body to produce dopamine, a reward-motivation receptors in the brain, getting texts sends the same signals to the brain as doing narcotics such as heroine or cocaine.

Moreover, on a strictly physical level, studies have shown that tilting your head forward when looking at a smartphone is the actual equivalent of an additional 60 pounds of pressure put on the neck and shoulders. Also, while an extensive use of social media and new technology can lead to poor and unhealthy sleep patterns; it has been proved that the carpal tunnel syndrome, also called “texter’s thumb” can be caused by intensive texting. Thus, the use of social media and new technologies brings more risk to the individuals based on the various physical and psychological damages it causes.

In conclusion, I strongly believe that the use of social media and new technologies brings more risk to the individual compared to the actual benefits of its use due to the false sense of communication, the lack of privacy and the effects on the human brain and body. I truly think that these concepts are dangerous to our society based on the physical and psychological consequences, the criminal acts and the behavioural changes coming along its use. However, since social media enables users to create and share content or to participate in social networking, it is up to the users to decide whether she or he should use it appropriately or not. Even though I intensely think that the rise of social media and new technologies have been harmful for our society, if taught how to use it properly, individuals could greatly benefit from it. Indeed, social media provides a shift in how people discover, read and share news, information and content. This access to technology and freedom is encouraging our society to challenge our past as well as current cultural and social structures in order to enhance our platforms and improve our lifestyles. Moreover, the rise of technology eases the access to information, which, through the rise of globalization, allows for further cultural exchanges and for the breaking of ethnic boundaries. Finally, curiosity is alimented by a vast diversity of information available online, which benefits individuals on an intellectual and educational levels. Thus, there are many good things and bad things about the use of social media and new technologies, but in the end, the only way users will fully benefit from their usage is if they manage to keep their personal life and social networking separated and balanced.

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