Social Media – A Social Dilemma
November 4, 2022
Social media has been in the news even more than usual this week as Elon Musk completed the purchase of Twitter for an eye watering $44bn US Dollars. With that kind of money changing hands, we can be in no doubt that the content people choose to share, the platforms they decide to share it on, and the number of people they are able to share it with are all highly profitable commodities in this advertisement-rich modern era.
According to one report, almost 60% of the global population are now using social media and the number is increasing annually; so it should come as no surprise that our young people, growing up as digital natives who have never known a time in which social media was not ubiquitous, are quick to embrace the practices, norms and trends of whatever groups they may be part of on whatever social media platforms they may have access to. The power of social media to connect and include others, irrespective of distance and location, can present young people with great opportunities for good, but unfortunately there are also many ways that social media can, and indeed does, have a less positive impact.
Writing on ‘The Psychology of Social Media’ on the ‘Safe on Social’ website, Madison, a 16 year old school student, recently wrote the following:
“When we’re uncomfortable, lonely, afraid, or bored, we turn to technology to distract us. Generations are now being raised that don’t learn to deal with the emotions head-on, instead pushing them down and not dealing with it. We no longer have the ability to be in the moment and enjoy each other’s company.”
You can read the rest of her piece by clicking the link above – it’s a sobering read. The young author goes on to identify that conformity bias and group polarisation are very real concerns for young users of social media. In other words, far from bringing people together, social media also has the potential to drive them apart, to form cliques that others aren’t allowed into and to create echo chambers where only affirming views are expressed and the alternate views, social norms and reasonable behaviours that would define normal day to day interactions and relationships between young people, do not always come to bear in the online environment.
So how do we, as parents and teachers best equip our young people to properly manage the complex social dynamics of social media? Attempting to address this question sufficiently would take much more than a newsletter article – suffice to say that opening a conversation, building trust and transparency and identifying and working through problematic behaviours or content are incredibly important considerations for any parent. At TIGS, internet safety is a key component of our Wellbeing program and we are currently reviewing our content to ensure it is up to date and relevant in this fast moving area. In addition there are a wealth of great resources available online to support parents in providing practical support to young people. The ‘Raising Children’ website is one such example. You might also like to have a look at the section produced for parents on the Australian Government’s e-safety website https://www.esafety.gov.au/parents. This is a great website that offers free resources that include webinars, videos and advice sheets with translations to help parents and carers learn effective strategies to help their children stay safe online.
Over the next few weeks, we are planning to organise an evening event at which an expert speaker will seek to raise awareness and provide practical support to parents who are keen to better understand the way social media can be used sensibly and appropriately by young people as well as answering any questions you may have. I look forward to providing you with further details in due course.