December 5, 2016

An Outsider Looks At Social Media

Well, not a true outsider. I do have a Satisfying Retirement and personal Facebook page and a Twitter account. Primarily, I use them to promote this blog. I will comment on someone else's postings if I feel particularly engaged by something, but not very often. I don't use LinkedIn or Pinterest. I have heard of Snapchat but know nothing about it. Instagram is not part of my life. Even Google Plus isn't on my radar. So, compared to a lot of folks I am a low level social media participant. 

Interestingly, the demographic with the largest growth in Internet use over the past half dozen years are those in the 65+ age group. Daily Internet use jumped 71%, with an accompanying 34% increase in the use of social media. 

Staying in touch with family, relatives, or reconnecting with friends are key motivators. Social media can help reduce feelings of isolation or being out of step in a world that is increasingly technological in orientation. Recently, I was contacted about my 50th High School Reunion by someone who tracked me down on Facebook. Twitter is being used to keep up with the topics folks are talking about. Discussion groups and finding others who share opinions and struggles can be empowering. 

I fully support that type of involvement. When its use helps lessen feelings of loneliness or allows someone to connect with others who share concerns and beliefs, social media can be a powerful tool for good. Learning to use a computer and navigate the Internet helps keep an aging mind active and open.

But, with that new world come risks and dangers. A week or so ago I wrote about the malware epidemic. One of the targets that hackers love is social media.  Clicking on a link that seems interesting or going to another site to look at a fascinating video can lead to computer infection. Stealing someone's identity or taking over another's Twitter or Facebook account is a rather common occurrence.

Actually, I have had both my Twitter and Facebook accounts hacked. In each instance someone started sending out spam and dangerous links to those in my on-line "friends.". Luckily, I was notified quickly that I appeared to be sending out odd information. 

Another recent development is the problem of fake news on Facebook and other sites. These legitimate-looking articles contain "news" stories that have little or no truth in them. They are designed to promote a particular point of view, to deceive readers, or to prompt action based on fabrications. I must admit I have clicked on several stories that seemed to be legitimate, but on closer examination, were not.

Social Media can be anonymous. The name chosen to represent someone is usually not the person's real name. Even a picture may be of someone else. With that comes a problem. It is too easy to hide behind a made-up name and spew hate or slurs with impunity.

Though we tend to think of younger folks as the ones using social media to settle scores or degrade someone, I doubt if age is a reliable test. During the last election season, Twitter, Facebook, and I assume other sites, were positively toxic at times and it seemed clear that many of the participants were from our age group.

Even if you'd never consider sending messages like that, just reading them can be upsetting and depressing. It is vital that we steer clear of reading things that are designed to add stress to our lives or cause us to react in a negative way.

Social Media has been a tremendous tool for good. If used responsibly these outlets keep us connected, informed, and entertained. Like almost anything else, if used recklessly or without common sense, there can be serious problems. 

User beware.


12 comments:

  1. Yes, I would agree, user beware! It seems that about 98% of the Yahoo news blurbs are made up or totally useless...

    Not a Robot

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    1. The arrest of someone yesterday who went to a restaurant with a gun because of a story so obviously false as to be laughable, is one of the most disturbing stories of this election season.

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  2. Re. fake news... Post-truth I've heard it called, where the truth is what you want it to be. I think it happens when people see a headline that agrees with their preconceptions and stop there. Next thing you know it is repeated and magnified through social media and soon "Everybody is talking about it, it must be true". I think the best policy is to reconfirm whatever story you see on line with a reputable source, a recognized national news outlet is a good start.

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    1. You are so right about the need to verify anything you read from more than one source. The attacks on "mainstream media" are so constant that even sources that are reputable are now being called into question. Without an independent media, democracy is in trouble.

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  3. Like you, I'm on social media for two reasons--to keep up with family, and to link to my blog. I only have FB, though. And during the last few months, I have decreased my screen time. and I began deleting posts that were negative or emotionally charged in some way. You used the right word--toxic.

    About the fake news, interesting to think about the historical evolution of news. There was a day when news traveled from town to town via tradesmen, or from farm to farm via gossip. The news wasn't always true. Then we got "real" news. And now we just have fake news. Very hard to stay responsibly informed in today's world. Even harder to determine what responsibly informed even means!

    I think I'll just stick to cat videos on FB!

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  4. The whole idea that fake news is such a problem and that people actually believe some of the most outrageous and obviously made up stuff speaks volumes about the dumbing down of society and the tendency to only read or listen to what supports our preconceived notions. Scary stuff.

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  5. Bob, Like you, I'm a low-level social media user. I have a Facebook account and check it almost every day. My main motivation is that it has turned out to be a great way of keeping in touch with distant relatives whom I seldom see. Now that I'm no longer teaching, I'm finding it especially useful for keeping in touch with younger generations -- former students and nieces and nephews. It turns out I have a lot in common with one distant niece whom I've only met in person a few times in her life.
    During the election, I learned to block posts from people whose politics gave me high blood pressure. Early on, I would try to challenge their views in a polite way, but I quickly learned that wasn't productive.

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    1. My wife is much more active on Facebook than I am, with friends and family. She posts lots of pictures and enjoys much of what she reads. She does, however, have a small list of FB "friends" so she avoids a lot of the nasty and rude stuff that passes for conversation on the Internet.

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  6. Have nothing to comment on. Love your writing, just have nothing to say or others have already said it. Please don't stop writing!

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    1. Thanks, Jack. I don't plan on stopping anytime soon.

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  7. While the Internet and World Wide Web are often lauded for creating greater accessibility to information (which they have), to my mind, one of the greatest contributions of the World Wide Web is its democratization of writing. Now anyone with Internet access can write, not only to friends and family, but to the world. The removal of gatekeepers, however, has brought with it a proliferation of writing that does not adhere to professional standards and ethics, as well as additional venues for marketeers and criminals to engage in their practices. As a result, a resource of great global and cultural value is at risk of being undermined by those who would use it maliciously for personal gain. The question is, how do we protect this resource and protect ourselves, yet maintain open access to the World Wide Web?

    Jude

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    1. That is the ultimate question with no answer as of now. The fake news problem really highlights how vulnerable we are.

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