There is no denying the myriad benefits that social media presents. Since the inception of one of the first successful social media platforms, MySpace, in 2003, people have used social media for friendship, finding love, and keeping secure connections to friends and family. They have run their businesses and promoted themselves on social media. It’s almost impossible for a business to become established without utilizing social media somehow.
Social media offers people many opportunities. However, as with anything that is widely embraced, there is an ever-present dark underbelly to social media. Many of the issues that have come about didn’t have names before the year 2000, like cyberstalking, doxing, and online witch hunts.
A Cavalcade of Opinions and Personalities
Before social media’s onset, like-minded groups mainly gathered in person. People with strong opinions aired those ideas in “Letters to the Editor” or public forums. The social mores of polite society dictated actions. People kept “dirty laundry” primarily private, and abuse and bullying were carried out, typically, in person.
With social media, especially Facebook, everyone has been gathered into one forum to shout opinions into the void, chide people they may disagree with, and gain access to people or groups they may have never had access to before. Everyone is given equal opportunity to say what they want, to whomever they want, in most cases.
Adam Carlton, founder of Pink Panda Finance, sees both the benefits and adverse effects of the greater access that members of the public have to widely promote their views.
“Human societies have built up institutions over time that formally recognize the knowledge and experience of their members.” says Carlton, “However, social media platforms have also given a voice to people who have relatively little knowledge about the subjects they discuss. The cultural shift away from institutionally-cultivated expertise to the amplification of non-experts on social media platforms makes it easier for unethical community members to intentionally mislead others for their own financial gain.”
The Human Toll of Negative Social Media Interaction
People 30 years old or younger have never known a world without some form of social media. Starting with chat groups, Usenet, AOL, and Friendster, primitive social media showcased some of the dark trends that were to take hold and fester once major social media platforms were introduced.
Studies show people spend up to 145 minutes per day on social media. With the use of social media so ingrained in day-to-day life, it’s bound to affect a person’s psyche, mental health, and self-esteem. Picture-based platforms such as Instagram have been shown to negatively affect body image, especially among young women. Even celebrities have fallen victim to the dark side of the web, with every move they make scrutinized, Tweeted, and opined about.
Cyberbullying has lent a new level of cruelty and accessibility to everyday negative adolescent interactions. Those interactions are not limited to adolescents. Adult behavior across the different platforms can sink to shocking levels of callousness. Anonymity allows people to behave in an especially depraved manner.
Recent research has identified 46 separate “harmful effects” of social media use, including depression, anxiety, negative impacts on work performance, and the loss of privacy.
Fraud and the perpetration of scams is another negative aspect of social media that can inflict deep harm. For example, blockchain fraud that leads to financial losses may compound other harmful effects. In addition, the cryptocurrency and NFT trading community can be one that is especially rife with negative social behavior.
“There is a tendency for people who buy cryptocurrency and NFTs to maintain an outwardly positive attitude toward their holdings, even when it is clear that the purchase was a bad one.” explains Carlton,”As a consequence, those who ask reasonable questions or criticize a project are routinely attacked, ostracized, and publicly shamed for spreading “FUD” even when fear, uncertainty, and doubt are entirely justified.”
As we saw from the last election cycle and the COVID-19 pandemic, misinformation is rampant across nearly all social media platforms. Although the platforms tried to reign in the deluge of misinformation disseminated through higher scrutiny on posting and disclaimers, it didn’t do much to stop the rise of fringe groups who doubled down on the information they gathered across the various networks.
Forbes noted in 2021 that it could be challenging to spot misinformation. We live in an age where people gather intelligence from headlines without reading further and let their opinions be known through memes or pithy comments of 140 characters or less. Deeply researched stances on topics from religion to politics to healthcare are becoming a rarity. Social media is about quick information, snap decisions, and short responses. This rapid-fire information dump creates an almost toxic environment, prime for misinformation to grow and spread.
While some demand that social media networks crack down on the spread of misinformation, still more people see their right to post what they want, where they want is an exercise of their right to free speech. Many platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter, have struggled to stay on top of the spread of misinformation, which is a full-time undertaking. However, given the power these platforms wield, the pressure is on them to make concerted efforts to curb false claims, fake information, and harmful rhetoric.
A Safer Social Media
Given what we know about the negative impact social media can have, users have to take measures to protect themselves. Some movements have encouraged “social media breaks,” especially for younger people.
A study conducted in 2018 at the University of Pennsylvania found that students who limited their social media use to 10 minutes a day over a three week period showed “significant reductions in loneliness and depression”. However, both the group that limited social media and a group of students who used social media as usual experienced anxiety of “missing out”.
There are other steps people may take to lessen their chance of falling victim to the dark side of social media:
– Set social media profiles to private
– Control what you post and who can see what you post
– Use the “block” feature liberally
– Conduct regular “cleanouts” of followers and friends
– Protect your identity and that of your children
– Remember, anything shared on the internet will be there for a long time, if not forever. Even if you delete it.
At the intersection of social media and blockchain technologies,where Carlton often finds himself, the harmful effects of misinformation, depression, and loneliness reinforce one another in a particularly pernicious way.
“When people are seeking meaning online through communities dedicated to investing in risky assets, the emotions involved can be both rewarding and dangerous.” he explains.
Nonetheless, emerging DeFi companies and companies like Carlton’s Pink Panda support underlying value in the intersection of social media communities and blockchain. Reducing risk of fraud in decentralized finance is a goal that makes the entire community more welcoming. Pink Panda has billed themselves as the trustworthy, easy path to crypto trading.
“There is nothing wrong with membership in a supportive community. There’s entertainment, the thrill of risks and rewards, and a sense of shared purpose contributing to the value of a digital asset project,” Carlton says, “People in the space generally seem to understand the risks. And even where there are losses, these can be viewed as the price of admission and a learning experience”
Carlton’s take on the benefits and pitfalls of the blockchain space speaks to the dichotomy of social media as a whole. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with social media, users need to enter into the space with an understanding of the risks involved.
Making oneself aware of some of the pitfalls of a life lived online will allow one to navigate the murky waters of social media with more caution and clarity.