Friend or foe?
That is the question I have asked myself many time before and have been asked by many people, especially parents and those working with children. Here I would like to explore this question and provide some insight to help answer this important question.
First, a reality check. As the saying goes; the more things change the more they stay the same. Social media, at its very core, is not really anything new. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, along with the host of other social platforms are simply places where people are being social, in a digital space.
Much like our ancestors who gathering around campfires to tell stories, to share life experiences, to give helpful advice and to debate the meaning of life, so too are social media networks. They are a place for people to do the same as they have always done. Not much has really changed, with more being much the same.
True, the ability to instantly connect with any number of people from anywhere in the world may be unique to social media. Being able to share photos and videos after seconds of capturing them may too be unique to social media. But, the truth is, the technologies that have made social media platforms what they are have only accelerated and advanced the way we have been communicating since we first became social beings.
So, while the ‘how to’ may have changed along with the ‘who to’, the basic content of our communications have not really changed that much at all. What has changed however, are society’s values, morals, convictions and beliefs. These changes have directly influenced the content of our social interactions along with who has access to those social engagements.
And herein lies the conundrum.
Possibly the best way to illustrate these changes of society’s values, morals, convictions and beliefs is to look at the entertainment industry. I could pick any number of entertainment channels or mediums; from print to online, audio to digital, but let’s consider print media and more specifically magazines.
In 1953 Marilyn Monroe graced the very first cover of the Playboy magazine, the so called iconic ‘men’s entertainment’ magazine. It was a rather ‘modest’ cover image by all accounts. Subsequent covers (for the most part) through the 1950’s, 60’s and early 70’s displayed this ‘modest’ theme for the glossy magazine’s covers. I say modest in quotations because, in the 1950’s, 60’s and early 70’s those covers were considered anything but modest.
Fast-forward a few decades and magazine shelves are lined with covers of magazines showing more ‘skin’ than Playboy’s early covers – and these are magazines for categories like fitness, fashion, sports and health. Not surprising then to find that the covers of some men’s magazines today are as revealing (and sometimes more) as the very content found in early men’s ‘glossy’ magazines.
This is evidence of society's decline of values, morals, convictions and beliefs displayed for all the world to see, regardless of age, gender or race. And unfortunately, this decline is just as openly on display in every other form of entertainment. Just compare film age restriction ratings from the 1960’s and 1970’s with today’s or compare lyrics from today’s top 40 hits and those of the 1980’s and you will see the same level of decline.
Social media, like all the many other media platforms and entertainment mediums, showcases these declines of values, morals, convictions and beliefs. But, just as we don’t stop going to the movies because of a few ‘bad’ films which are released to the silver screen or equally stop reading magazines for the same reason, the same applies for social media.
The same moral judgement calls and value filters you use for screening the movies you watch, magazines you read or TV shows you enjoy, should be applied to the social media platforms you access and use, both for yourself and your family. With that said, here are some guidelines and things to consider when selecting social media networks, especially for your children, to access.
Please note that the following considerations are based on generalisations regarding morals and values and basic ethics. As each person determines their own values, morals, convictions and beliefs, my recommendations and considerations are as broad as possible and are very generalised.
The good, the bad and the ugly
To simplify Social media activities and to try categories them as a way of better understanding them, I will group these activities into three broad categories: the good, the bad and the ugly.
These are in no way a complete list of the good, the bad and the ugly of social media, but it should suffice in the context of this exploration.
Social media platforms are a great way to connect with family and friends, to stay up to date with current events and expand on general knowledge. They showcase bountiful expressions of creativity and can improve communication skills. They can offer access to content which gives inspiration, encouragement and guidance. Social media can emphasize social responsibility and civil contributions and bring awareness to important socio economic issues and themes.
Social media platforms have opened the door to cyberstalking, the exposure and glorification of various substance abuses and the disregard for the law by some users. Conflicting world views pertaining to values, morals, convictions and beliefs are part of social media networks given their social and open nature. Content showing violence and animal cruelty do find their way to social media platforms as well from time to time.
Sadly, cyber bullying is on the rise on popular social media platforms along with body shaming. Pornography always seems to rear its ugly head out wherever scores of people gather online. The reality that illegal activities are encouraged by some people on some social networks is a real concern.
Sifting through the junk
Weighing up the pros and cons of social media platforms is more than just placing the good, the bad and the ugly side by side. Determining if social media is a friend or foe is a little more complex than that. Here are a few guidelines and basic things to consider when doing so.
Social media platforms can be ‘friend’ or safe to use if you understand them, keep up to date with changes and developments in the social media landscape and understand some basics of online activities. Staying active on social media platforms and asking questions and continually learning helps a great deal. Following the specific community guidelines on a particular social media network is essential. Above all, using common sense as a guide is probably the best way to stay safe on any social media platform.
Nothing will turn a social media platform faster into a ‘foe’ or a danger zone than ignorance and a willful disregard for them as a whole. A lack of control and not understanding privacy setting are sure ways of letting social media platforms become danger zones. Overconfidence and blind acceptance of connections are common bad practices which can put people into difficult situations as a result of their social activities.
A helping hand
Let me conclude with some guidelines for families and children that can help keep social media networks safer and an enjoyable way of socialising and connecting online.
For parents with children accessing the internet and social media platforms on a desktop at home, keep the desktop in an open area where everyone can be seen and activities can be monitored. It is also recommended to consider installing monitoring and filtering software to have better control over access to content online and on various networks.
For those accessing social media on mobile devices it is important to respect privacy, but equally important to be aware of online activities. Establishing clear usage boundaries and access times is a good start, as well as encouraging open and transparent usage behaviour.
Parents wanting or needing more comprehensive monitoring of their child's social media activities on mobile devices can consider installing monitoring apps which allow for a whole range of monitoring features as well as various functionality restrictions of the mobile device. Apps to consider are TeenSafe (see video below), KuuKla Parental Control, Norton Family Premier and ESET Parental Control.
Though exploring the good, the bad and the ugly of social media and usage consideration and guideline, it should be apparent that social media is neither only friend or only foe. Rather, social media platforms are a delicate balance of both friend and foe elements and it is up to the user to determine, based on their own values, morals, convictions and beliefs, what a social media platform will ultimately be.
I would love to hear your thoughts and views on this and would appreciate any tips or advice you may have for fellow parents. Feel free to leave your comments below.