One remarkable contribution of technology in the 21st century is in the communication sector where access to information and sharing has totally reformed from the traditional post offices for sending letters to the current innovative channels for sending and receiving instant messages globally. Courtesy of the internet, several online platforms for social media have been developed over the last decade from Facebook, Twitter, Instagram to Snapchat and many others that are yet to attract users. Currently, it is estimated that 3 billion people, close to half the world's population, are using online social media, and are spending on average 2 hours a day tweeting, liking, sharing and updating on various platforms. That translates to approximately half a million Snapchat photos and tweets shared every minute (Brown). One peculiar thing with the new social media platforms is that they run on cell phones meaning that once can access it everywhere as long as the device is powered. With that, social media platforms have reduced the world to a global village where billions of people interact on a platform as if they are inches away from each other. However, a debate on possible detrimental effects of these communication technologies has ensured for almost as long as they came into existence. Those who are pro-social media argue that the platforms are empowering and connecting people leading to nurtured and expanded relationships. On the other hand, those who are opposed to social media argue negative effects not only to the user but also expanding to the threatening of national security. The debate appears endless and not going anywhere soon. Nonetheless, with the increasing development of new platforms for social media, more people are experiencing the adverse effects that it causes. Therefore, it is essential to moderate the use of social media in our everyday lives.
Social media platforms have become effective channels through which abusers target children for various evils. Social platforms have become attractive to teenagers than even any other group of people. Statistics show that 75% of teens own a cell phone (Siddiqui et al 71). Out of these, 73% have used social media, 63% watch online videos, 61% play games online whereas 52% have commented on a blog (Siddiqui et al 71). With this huge percentage of teenagers accessing social media and the knowledge of ill-motivated people on how they can easily connect with these teens, children are exposed to adverse effects in various ways. First, people can share videos or photos on social media containing negative things that affect the behavior of teens. For example, pornographic videos shared on social media and accessed by teens can drive them into risky sexual behaviors that can lead to early pregnancies or contracting sexually transmitted diseases. Second, child kidnappers, murderers, rapists, and other criminals can easily connect with children using social media and proceed to attack them. There are many cases registered on this in the police station where adults have targeted teens and lured them to a meeting (Siddiqui et al 74). Last, social media platforms have been used to influence youth extremely that they become violent and take inappropriate actions. A good illustration is the case of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, a 19-year-old boy who followed Jihadist links on social media eventually getting self-radicalized such that he colluded with his brother to execute the Boston bombing in 2013 (Bates 2). As these cases show, social media is a technology that has attracted more than three-quarters of the youth thus exposing them to abusers who find it easy to attack or spoil their lives by either serving them with dangerous content or luring them so that they fall in the hands of kidnappers, murders or rapists.
Moreover, the use of social media platforms is addictive exposing an individual to adverse health effects. A study by Jha examined the effects of Facebook use among 452 respondents. 98.2% of the respondents used Facebook (378). The study established that most of the students were addicted to using Facebook that they find it hard to stay without login infrequently. 84.1% of the students accessed Facebook daily with one-fourth of them accepting that they indulge in Facebook until late night frequently (Jha 378). Although some of the students cited instances where they used Facebook to access learning materials, a majority of them accepted that it was a source of many health problems. The study revealed that Facebook users got annoyed if anyone disturbed them when they are using Facebook, an indication of psychological disturbance. Likewise, the addicted users reported various adverse health effects they endured including burning eyes (21% of the students), disturbed sleep (19%), headache (16.2%), neck pain (7.3%), back pain (4.9%), and reduced appetite (0.9%) (Jha 378). Similarly, O'Reilly et al. confirmed that social media causes addiction and leads to anxiety and mood disorders to the users (34). Facebook is quite old and not as attractive as the newer social media platforms such as Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram, to name a few. What this means is that people may be more addicted and spent much of the time accessing these platforms leading to higher chances of developing the adverse health issues cited above.
Furthermore, numerous social media platforms have expanded the scope of privacy violation and cyberbullying all of which have negative consequences for individuals. Most social media platforms claim to be free only to collect user information and submit to advertising companies who in turn send tailored adverts to the individuals (Scott 56). The user information is collected without consent from social media profiles, and this has been facilitated by the fact that information shared on social media is free and open and can be copied by anyone. Individuals can thus be tracked without their knowledge based on the information they provide on their social media accounts. Tracking is done by using cookies that collect information on one's activities (tweets, likes, purchases, and clicks). Such breach of privacy is unethical and unacceptable. It may lead to negative consequences such as identity theft and possible hacking of one's social media account or even bank account resulting in a loss of money. Likewise, social media platforms provide for a magnified invasion of the private domain in what is popularly known as cyberbullying (Nilan 87). Cyberbullying is an aggressive behavior or act by electronic means to a given individual or certain group repeatedly and over time (Nilan 87). Social media platforms are perfect tools for cyberbullying because they have a potential for anonymity, complex bystander roles, relative distance, and difficulty in escaping from constant harassment (Nilan 88). Cyberbullying can lead to adverse consequences including adverse mental disturbances, anxiety, loneliness, and suicide by the victim (Nilan 34). Therefore, social media platforms are tools that facilitate privacy violation and cyberbullying which in turn lead to negative consequences for the users which may even cost their lives.
It is quite evident that the use of social media has adverse impacts on the users who are either minors or adults. It is prudent that the use of such technologies is moderated. There are various ways that have been suggested and can be followed to moderate social media use and mitigate the impacts. According to Nilan, limiting the amount of information disclosed online, restricting access to personal profiles, instigating strict privacy settings, and changing email address or user-name frequently can be a few ways to circumvent exposure to online bullies (88). These measures can be effective in moderating privacy violation and cyberbulllying (Bengani 52). Kaplan adds that moderation can be undertaken by coming down to what content is allowed on various platforms, what comments are permitted, and what interactions are acceptable (59). The owners of the platform or those who manage groups or sites are entitled to moderate the content and ensure that violent and extremist content is not shared. Nonetheless, the best way to control the use of social media should begin with individuals and parents. For example, parents should control what content children can access through home-based computers and cell phones, and most importantly focus on educating their children on the use of social media.
On the other side of the debate, the opponents to social media moderation argue that technology is a powerful tool for liberating citizens through citizen journalism. They argue that social media has been powerful in advocating for democracy and fighting regimes of dictatorship. Social media has allowed people to express their views and drive uprisings that have seen oppressors ousted out of office (Eltantawy et al. 18). There are examples to illustrate this point. One is the Arab Spring whereby the social media platforms (Twitter and Facebook) were used to drive a revolution by mobilizing protesters who eventually saw the ouster of Tunisian president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and overthrow of Hosni Mubarak of Egypt (Eltantawy et al. 18). The revolutions would have certainly failed were it not for the power of social media that reached out to millions of citizens who came out nationwide to protest against oppressive governments. The social media sensitizes the citizens on their rights and gears them up for change when the right time comes.
As illustrated by the above argument, social media is indeed a powerful tool for advancing democracy. However, that does not mean its use should not be moderated. Perhaps every technology that comes with good fruits does not leave behind the bitter ones; it comes with both. To ensure that the good fruits of social media are enjoyed while the bitter ones are forfeited, the only route to take in moderation. Needless to mention, there are many instances in which social media has been used to cause evils than it has led to celebrated results such as those cited by opponents to platform liability. For instance, the Boston bombing earlier cited is a good example of how unregulated social media use can lead to extremism. That aside, another good example to illustrate the dark side of immoderate social media use is the Rohingya genocide. In 2017, a Rohingya armed group massacred up to 99 Hindu men, women and children. Upon United Nations investigations, Facebook was cited to have played a great role in the spread of hate speech that contributed to the killings (Miles). This example illustrates a complete contrast of citizen journalism and informs that whereas social media can be used to mobilize the citizens to rise up for a good course, it can also be used in the next minute to mobilize hatred and result in a massacre in no time.
The myriad adverse effects caused by social media on the users necessitate moderation of the platforms to maximize its good while downplaying its negative aspects. Use of social media has innumerable detrimental effects on the users ranging from child kidnapping, exposure to dangerous and violent content, murder and rape to adverse health effects for the adults including psychological disturbances, addiction, headaches, back pains, eye problems and neck pain as well as a violation of privacy and propagation of cyberbullying. Many children have been attracted to using social media which has exposed them to abusers who pump all negative content to feed them and destroy their moral fabric. Ill-motivated people also use social media to spread hatred and eventually lead to massacres. Likewise, terrorists exploit the anonymity in social media to spread their lies and reach out to children who can be easily self-radicalized by social media content.
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