SOCIAL MEDIA: EXPLAINED

Ella Gage, Opinion Editor

Every day, students scroll through their social media, through endless posts by friends, influencers, famous people, politicians, meme pages, models, sport pages, organizations, musicians—pretty much everything imaginable. Is that for better or worse?

In the midst of a global pandemic, a civil rights movement, climate change frustration,  a feminist movement, and one of the most polarized political climates since the Civil War, does social media help or hurt the mindset of its users? 

On one side, it provides valuable information. On the other side, that information may or may not be true. On one side, it encourages taking a stance on issues. On the other side, it divides and isolates. A recent MIT study on Twitter reveals that fake news actually spreads six times faster than real news. Naturally, this creates issues of legitimacy of information and distrust of the press. It’s hard to know what to believe. 

It’s just as difficult to manage time. 70% of Liberty students* feel like they can’t get off their phone. Why is that? With everything being thrown at social media users at once, you’d think they would get tired of it; get a headache; want to log off. Why is this? 

Social media is secretly built for addiction. This was the intention when apps, from Facebook to Instagram to Snapchat, were invented. Of course, creators didn’t intend for social media use to get so out of hand; the average person spends four hours on their phone each day without realizing it. The people who caused this were not necessarily ill-intentioned; they were simply capitalistic masterminds, making a groundbreaking business in order to make some money and benefit people’s lives at the same time.                    

Think about it: what’s the point of creating something amazing and powerful if it doesn’t turn a profit? Enter: advertisers. The ads you constantly see on Instagram? That’s how Instagram is funded. Advertisers pay some amount of cents for each person that is shown the ad, and, using Instagram as an example (though all social media does this), it continues to generate ads that match up with the sort of things a person browses. 

“The point of social media is that you get to talk to people for free, so if you start charging the users, that would kind of ruin the point,” an anonymous Liberty student said. As a result, in order to make money by more people viewing ads more frequently, the model for social media is built to be addictive. In Silicon Valley, inventors and developers for apps are getting so uneasy about this, they’ve started speaking up. 

“I feel tremendous guilt. I think we have created tools that are ripping apart the social fabric of how society works,” Chamath Palihapitiya,  Facebook’s former vice president for user growth said in a BBC interview. When most students think about social media, the first thought that comes to mind is most likely not “ripping apart the social fabric of how society works.” They more likely think along the lines of how they should check Charli D’Amelio’s TikTok for new dances, obsess over Harry Styles’ Instagram, or worry they’ve taken too long to snap their crush or text their groupchat to make plans. Nothing too bad, right? 

In reality, social media changes one’s relationship with society. It becomes easier to withdraw into separate bubbles and talk to less and less people in real life while being virtually interconnected with more people than realistic. It takes away the need to hang out or call someone since one can keep up with everyone online. Social media has not only changed our relationships with others; it’s also changed our relationships with ourselves.

Although it helps students stay interconnected, laughing, and inspired, it can also be toxic and superficial. It can cause frustration, comparison, insecurity, or jealousy, or all of the above. The current generation of teenagers is the most depressed and anxious in history. It’s not hard to imagine why.

Even with all this considered, social media still has at least a few salvageable qualities, one of them being its ability to provoke change. Social media is encouraging young people to be aware of their surroundings and care about things that matter. It has served as the fuel to the fire of the Black Lives Matter movement, the climate change movement, LGBTQ awareness, feminism and demand for gender equality, and more. Maybe through all the chaos and negativity in the world, this generation of teenagers will be the one that says enough is enough. This generation will be the one to make positive changes. Social media has cultivated a whole generation of young, aware, fed up progressives. Not since the hippie movement have teenagers been so active politically. The time to change is now, and social media continues to be a factor in awareness and progression. 

Despite its downsides, no, it is most likely not realistic to delete all social media. For most, it is the primary form of communication. It makes users happy; it keeps them entertained. It surely has its positives. But there is a responsibility students have as consumers: to be aware of the product they are using.