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The Dark Side of Social Media

Do you ever stop and think back about the time when the go-to source for news was the newspaper, "likes" were things you listed down in a slam book, and social networking meant attending soirees and organization gatherings? Now, we check Twitter for breaking news, click on the thumbs up icon on Facebook to express our interest and replace actual human interaction with hours on the Internet.

We often read about the benefits of social media: how it bridges the distance by connecting us to people, places and events all over the world, and how it multiplies the opportunities to learn and do business. But as with everything else, these benefits extract a certain price, and I’m not just talking about your electrical and phone bills. There’s the fact that it can be a major distraction for those of us who aren’t quite as disciplined as others (this includes yours truly), and can even become an addiction.

But the biggest concerns with regard to social media are its consequences on the youth. When I was growing up, I wasn’t allowed to watch MTV or read Sweet Valley High because my parents believed that these would expose me to bad values. I don’t know if parents still have these kinds of rules these days, but I can imagine how hard these would be to impose, considering how even prepubescent kids have their own gadgets these days. Even with parental control options, kids can be exposed to all kinds of things through seemingly innocuous channels like Facebook.

The Envy Effect

Ironically, I first came across this term on Facebook, when several of my friends shared a post from Relevant Magazine. The author, Shauna Niequist, writes about how the Internet gives us a skewed perspective of our lives, as well as everyone else’s. I sympathize with her completely when she says, "I so easily fall prey to the seduction of other people’s partial truths and heavily filtered photos, making everything look amazing. And their amazing lives make me feel not amazing at all".

It’s not an uncommon sentiment. In fact, a study by the UK’s University of Salford revealed that about half of the participants believe that social networking sites have an overall negative effect on their lives, particularly on their self-esteem. The sad thing about it is that a lot of what we see isn’t necessarily the truth.

Cyberbullying

A couple of months ago, videos of a woman rudely berating a security guard went viral all across the Philippines, spawning the "Amalayer" hashtag. Netizens were quick to vilify the woman, and it got to the point that she had to deactivate her Facebook and Twitter accounts. In the US, cyberbullying has become such a big concern that Maryland is trying to pass the "Misuse of Interactive Computer Service" bill, aka "Grace’s Law" named after 15-year-old Grace McComas, who was driven to suicide because of cyberbullying.

According to Statistic Brain, 52% of students in the US have experienced cyberbullying, and more than half of them do not tell their parents about it. Networking sites have become breeding ground for bullies because it provides them with a certain degree of anonymity even as their taunts spread like wildfire making it all the worse for the victims.

Privacy and Security

Identity thieves. Stalkers. Sexual predators. How many times have we heard of homemade sex videos gone public and online dating gone wrong?

A study by Ponemon Institute last December 2012 revealed that the Internet and social media are the least trusted industries for privacy, with 59% of the survey participants expressing that their privacy rights are "diminished or undermined by social media, smart mobile devices and geotracking tools". With all the options to tweet what we’re doing and to share our location, we really have to be careful about the information and content that we make public and the new "friends" that we interact with online.

Maybe now’s the time to reflect about the value we place on social media. I’m not a parent, but if I were, I’d sit down with my kids, give them a hug and remind them about the things that matter real, one-on-one interactions, personal milestones and critical thinking. Heaven knows that the real world is tough enough without throwing social media in the mix.

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