Human Interest


When we hear the term media we immediately equate it with any method of mass communication such as newspapers, magazines, radio, and television. The term social media brings to mind a completely different set of thoughts. The Media is an oft-maligned institution that has evolved from being a source of facts and information about current events to an overtly partisan activist/advocate for social change. Social media started out as a messaging system for users to share life events and activities and make announcements. It was a medium with good intentions at the start. You could wish your fellow users “Happy Birthday,” announce the birth of a grandchild, or tell your friends about a trip you had taken. It was a message board and personal photo album wrapped into one, and its connection to the internet meant that particular information could be distributed widely. But just like regular media, social media’s purpose has changed, too. 

Social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, SnapChat, Twitter, and others quickly soared in popularity because of the capability of instant and widespread distribution of information. Anyone registered as your friend, as well as many other individuals, could immediately see the information you posted, and respond to it if they desired. It became a means by which everyone was informed of everything in your life, as long as you were willing to share it. At first, that included mainly family social activities, but over time, it evolved into an opinion page and a means for personal advocacy.   

Facebook and Twitter (I’ve never accessed Instagram or SnapChat) are designed to grab your attention and keep you online for hours at a time. Teens are especially vulnerable to this attraction. “Pew Research Center reports that 97% of 13-17 year olds use at least one of the seven major online platforms.” Another report states that “the average teenager 13-18 spends about 9 hours on social media each day…..tweens ages 8 to 12  are on for 6 hours a day.” If you go anywhere teens frequent you immediately notice everyone of them is intently peering into his/her phone—even as they walk along! Is this a good thing? Are they all sharing uplifting, educational information? Or are they gossiping and conniving?

On the positive side, social media has a lot of good aspects. It allows one to

     Stay connected with friends and family worldwide, share moments in your life

     Make new friends, network with old friends, provide emotional support to friends

     Have quick access to information both social and intellectual

     Get involved in civic activities—fundraisers, social awareness, worthy causes

     Have a marketing tool for a small business

     To promote oneself for employment 

     As an outlet for creativity and self-expression

     To raise awareness on important issues

It seems most often people use social media to tell “their world” what has happened recently in their life. A new restaurant they tried, a visit they made to a landmark, friends they invited to their home, or wedding, graduation, birthday, or anniversary pictures they want to share are just a few examples. “Friends” who see this information are given an opportunity to react to these activities by replying “Like” or writing a response in the “Comments” section of the post. It almost becomes addictive and people do it at all times of day or night!

Along with the good, unfortunately also comes the bad. Social media for many has become a platform to criticize others’ opinions, deride others’ actions, promote controversial ideas, and just argue and be obnoxious. Instead of respecting the opinions of others, many have expressed hate and “unfriended” people with whom they disagree. “I’m right and you’re not so the heck with you! We can’t be friends!” It gets ugly. The U.S. surgeon general’s office is so concerned it has issued a warning about the risks of social media to young people and it’s possible harm to the mental health and well-being of children and adolescents. They urge policymakers and social media companies to share with parents this warning and limit teens exposure to this medium.

On the negative side of social media, many harmful results can occur.

     Much less time spent in face-to-face interaction

     Depression, anxiety, loneliness, and low self-image are huge consequences

     A feeling of insecurity, isolation, and being manipulated by others is common

     Exposure to age-inappropriate content occurs often

     A huge fear of missing out (FOMO) on some major event, gossip, conversation

     It’s used to relieve boredom and produce unreasonable expectations

     It’s a platform for self-absorption, narcissism, or approval of others

     It’s a huge distraction from family interaction, attention to schoolwork, or one’s job

     Fosters self-doubt and an unfavorable comparison to others


Cyberbullying is the most pernicious of the problems with social media. Bullying has always been a problem between people, but social media increase its effect significantly. By using verbal, written, or electronic means, the bullier causes physical or emotional harm to a person or his/her property. The bullied person experiences fear of personal harm or harm to property, and lives in an environment of intimidation, abuse and hostility which disrupts every aspect of their life. Social media platforms make dissemination of the bullying much easier. More people can receive the threats immediately through a post making the subject of the threats a bigger target. Bullying is wrong in any form, and the people who do it are bad people. They’ve learned a behavior that achieved what they were seeking and repeat that behavior to get their way. They belittle others to improve their self-image. 

Twenty-five percent of teens are bullied, with up to 43% experiencing at least an hint of it. Students with alternative lifestyles, an unusual body habitus, or obvious disabilities are most prone to being bullied. It often goes unreported and leads to unexplained absenteeism. Those folks being bullied have a miserable, anxiety-filled life. It has even been bad enough to lead to suicide. 

So instead of being a force for good, social media straddles the line between good and evil. Which way it goes depends entirely upon the character and intentions of the user. Unfortunately, the negative, though occurring less often than the positive, has an impact that overshadows the positive. They say it takes fifty positives to counter the effects of one negative. That is true in both life and the cyber world. 

Social media is also a conduit for the expression of one’s opinions. I think this is the wrong forum for this, especially for political opinions. Discussions of politics and religion are guaranteed to cause disagreement and should not be conducted publicly online where everyone and his brother sees it. It endears those who agree and alienates those who don’t. If you want to stir up a hornets’ nest just tell everyone who they should vote for in the next election. You’re sure to be unfriended by several people. We have elections by secret ballot for a reason.

Social media platforms are a good idea if they are used correctly, are a force for good, and are not used to bring harm and ridicule to people with whom you disagree. Civility and good manners need to prevail. We all need to remember what my fifth grade teacher drilled into us every day: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all!” That is excellent advice for all of us. Unfortunately, many people don’t practice that principle and are cyberbullies. Civility and decorum must return to public discourse. You don’t have to win every argument/debate. You don’t have to get everyone to agree with you. People are still free to have their own opinions, and we shouldn’t remove them from our lives if we disagree. Tolerance is important and selfishness should be avoided. Life and social media would both be more pleasant.   



FamilyMedicineToday “US Surgeon General Issues Public Warning About the Risks of Social Media to Young People.” 2023 May 23. 

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