Social media has been around long enough that young people don’t know the world without these digital platforms. This generation has been weaned on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. They share fleeting memories on Snapchat and they do their dating on Tinder. Compare this to their parents and grandparents who oftentimes are still learning the ins and outs of crafting a solid social media presence.
However, is all the time connected to social media a good thing? Despite bringing us closer together and ever more interconnected, what does it do to the level of discourse in America and the broader world? This article will explore the downsides of social media as well as its potential as a force for good.
Too Much of Anything Can Be a Bad Thing
Anonymity in an open forum can be as toxic as it is liberating. Social scientists have long noted the decline of civil discourse in the internet age. Where once reasonable people could disagree on topics as wide-ranging as video games to politics, these days, in a typical online argument, you’re as likely to hear, “Go kill yourself!” as you are “That’s your opinion and I respect it.”
Also, social media has made it all the easier to retreat into our own ideological corners. We select the news we see, the friends we keep, and it shapes our worldview. Without dissenting opinion, it’s easy to lock ourselves away in our digital castles, free of ideas that might conflict with our outlook and it’s precisely in this vacuum that we’re ripe to be exploited by the more cynical and nefarious elements out there. Which brings us to our next point.
The Tail Wags the Dog
Facebook testified before Congress that Russia used their platform to disseminate disinformation in the run-up to the 2017 U.S. Presidential election. It was all designed precisely to lower the level of discourse and keep opposing ideological camps at each other’s throat.
Now, pessimists could look at the evidence of nation-states weaponizing social media for geopolitical purposes and say that the future is bleak indeed, but that would ignore all the good that is being done on social media which is good being done.
The Next Generation
Many new media companies are not just trying to turn a profit. Instead, they’re trying to provide social good as well.
Take Campfire for example. This mobile app is innovative in that it incentivizes users to ask questions of icons, celebrities, thought leaders and cultural trailblazers. Not only does this create a positive online dialogue as opposed to a caustic one, but you can really rack up the bucks. Anytime you ask a question in the app that gets a response, you earn cash which can be donated to charity and if you manage to unlock other questions besides your own, another charitable donation will be made in your name. Their slogan, “On Campfire, social media does social good,” seems to fit the bill.
Then there’s the case of TBH, an app which in October 2017 was acquired by Facebook. Rather than dealing in cash, TBH deals in compliments and kindness. The startup earned millions of dedicated users in just two months because of its premise which takes part in a poll of your online friends by answering positive questions about them. Users choose the best qualities of their friends and the results are delivered right to them. It’s enough to boost anyone’s day and put a spring in their step.
These are just a couple ways forward-thinkers are using the internet for good. What do you think? Do you have the next groundbreaking idea to harness social media as a force for good?