Social Media: The Benefits and Risks

Social media is a form of online communication that has become a popular way to make and maintain new and existing relationships. It is an internet-based way to publicly share ideas, opinions, thoughts, and information using computer-based technology. People that use it are quickly able to exchange things such as: personal information, documents, articles, files, videos, reviews, and photos. This interaction is made easier through the creation of virtual networks. People use various devices, like computers, tablets, gaming devices, or smart phones via web-based software or applications to share their content on-line. Today around seven-in-ten Americans use social media to connect with one another, engage with news content, share information, and entertain themselves.[1]

There are various kinds of social media, examples include social networking/community building, bookmarking, content curation, social news, media sharing, podcasts, microblogging, messaging, drives, and online discussion forum sites.

There are also hundreds of social media platforms and applications, but in 2022 the top 3 are: 1.  Facebook (Meta) = 2.74 billion monthly active users, 2. YouTube = 2.291 billion monthly active users, and 3.  WhatsApp = 2 billion monthly active users

Most platforms or applications require the creation of a user profile to access, play, or publish to sites. Profiles include basic information to identify the user, for example the user’s name, photo, location, contact information, a password, and any personal details that the user is willing to share. “A social profile also displays information that helps to understand the type and strength of an individual’s relationships with others; like their level of participation and contribution in different initiatives, projects, communities, or conversations; their reputation among other participants, and so on.”[2]

Because social media is a means of mass communication (broadcasting, publishing, and the internet) it is akin to newspapers, television, and radio in its ability to reach people. However, social media often does not have the same guidelines, standards, security protections, government regulations, or legal requirements as these other forms of media. Its use has raised unresolved issues related to the constitutional right of freedom of speech, censorship, corporate responsibility, and the ownership of intellectual property.

1.   Impact of Social Media

Social media is used all over the world by individuals, groups, businesses, and governments. It can be used as a means of expression, to make recommendations, discuss issues, shape opinions, influence decisions, create trends, promote lifestyles, build communities, mobilize groups, affect popularity, or simply to connect with others. Social media has put the power of the press in the hands of individuals who have used it to report real time civil liberties’ violations and acts of inhumanity such as the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and LaQuand McDonald; Russia’s warring attack upon Ukrainian citizens, and China’s aggression against Hong Kong. It has also facilitated the development of a phenomenon called “cancel culture” or cancelling.

“Cancelling” is a social-media trend that promotes the targeting and deriding of people, brands, movies, and other forms of media broadcasts due to what some groups consider to be offensive or problematic remarks, behaviors, or ideologies. The majority of people who have been canceled have at most been sidelined for a short period of time and reappeared.[3] What they usually experience is a social media thrashing.[4] Some instances have resulted in the individual being permanently ostracized, losing political standing, popularity, or employment.

In emergency situations like during the CoVid 19 pandemic, because of restrictions to physical contact, social media usage made possible real-time status updates, alerts, and virtual alternatives to many of the world’s normal activities. However, most organizations (58%) surveyed across all industries do not have a plan for how to use social media during crises or events.[5]

Currently there are more than 4.5 billion people using social media world-wide and their usage can include multiple sites. By 2023, the number of people using social media in the United States is projected to increase to 257 million. 75% of all teen-agers have social media profiles. Furthermore, it has been reported that the average teen-ager between the ages of 13-18 spends about 9 hours each day on social media.[6] Although it is illegal to use it to make a hiring decision, 91% of recruiters and hiring professionals use social media to screen job applicants.

With all those active users commenting, sharing information or talent, some people are going to become known as interesting, worth knowing, and sought out. People who have built a reputation for their knowledge and expertise on specific topics and have a sizable number of ‘followers” are called “influencers.”[7] Sometimes they are celebrities, industry leaders, or just everyday people who know a lot or have a lot to say about a particular subject. For some groups, and because of the speed of search engines, social media has become their preferred source of information. However, preference does not always equate to source reliability or credibility. Websites like snopes.com , Fact Check, and/or PolitiFact make it easy to fact check information.

1.1  Positive Impacts of Social Media

Social media has impacted education, commerce, the world of work, and the development of personal relationships. Used positively, social media can raise awareness, entertain, educate, inspire, and afford an outlet for creativity and self-expression. With social media, users are provided quick access to information and research, online learning, ecommerce, increased social interaction, feelings of belonging, and connectivity via technology. Developmentally, routine social media use, e.g., using social media as part of everyday routine and responding to content that others share is positively associated with social well-being, positive mental health, and self-related health.

Teachers are using social media to increase class participation, promote digital literacy, create cohorts, support distance learning, and internationalize learning in Global Classrooms where instructors and students teach and learn with peers abroad using Internet-based technologies for communication.

Companies use social media to enter new markets. Social media marketing provides companies with ways to engage existing customers and reach new ones while allowing them to promote their desired culture, mission, or tone.[8] Through social media networks’ openness, businesses can follow their consumers’ activities or identify potential buyers. This better informs marketers about their target audience’s, likes, dislikes, and interests so that they can attract more customers.[9] Employers that use social media for recruitment purposes have been able to target a broader market of potential candidates for job positions.[10] Research revealed that 65% of companies say that social media posts helped them thoroughly research their applicants’ qualifications.[11]

Job searchers post resumes to online job websites such as Glassdoor, Indeed, Jobster, Nexxt, and to social media platforms like LinkedIn, Meta, The Dots.

Social media has made it possible to involve routinely disenfranchised people through civic engagement and digital inclusion, giving them access to follow political campaigns, poll community issues, and participate in virtual forums.

Additionally, social media can make it easy to find like-minded groups people or make new friends. Finding a close-knit community can help someone feel valued and accepted. It’s also an easy way to maintain contact and nurture existing relationships with family and friends who have moved away.

2.2 Negative Impacts of Social Media

Unfortunately, social media can also have negative impacts which are unhealthy and sometime downright dangerous. Because of how public the access can be, social media is vulnerable to invasions of privacy, misinformation, misuse, and malicious intent and/or code on a global basis.

Radicalization, stalking, identity theft, personal attacks, cancelling, phishing, social media addiction, and misuse of information are some risks and negative impacts faced by social media users. Much of the time, users themselves are responsible as they share content that should not be in the public eye. The confusion arises from a lack of understanding of how private and public elements of online profiles work.[12] Improper use can result in irreparable damage to one’s reputation or self-esteem. Other times in situations with intentional misinformation the goal is to deliberately mislead, defame, and/or provide questionable/false information. And there are social media platforms specifically designed to promote hate speech, unsubstantiated conspiracy theories, hoaxes, and cause political polarization.

Cancelling, defined as “Cancel culture or call-out culture,” is a modern form of ostracism in which someone is thrust out of social or professional circles – whether it be online, on social media, or in person. Those subject to this ostracism are said to have been “cancelled”. In this case, social media is used to punish the offender though targeted encouragement of on-line public rejection. The word “cancel” in this context has roots in hip-hop culture, from the 1991 film “New Jack City” where a fictitious Harlem drug pusher, Nino Brown, called for someone to be canceled, a euphemism for murder.

Phishing attacks can be placed on social platforms, tricking users into logging into fake landing pages which leads to their turning over their credentials; or encouraging users to download attachments, so malware can be installed on their devices. When this happens, access to the user’s account is gained, which can spread additional attacks tricking more users into handing over their credentials.

Using powerful algorithms and online activity data, social media giants contribute to predatory behavior advertising by mining information from unsuspecting users. Companies then employ hidden digital marketing tactics to promote gambling products, alcoholic drinks, and unhealthy food to people under 18 years of age.

From a health standpoint, social media can cause psychological cravings and become addictive. For some, excessive use can fuel feelings of anxiety, depression, isolation, feelings of inadequacy, suicidal thoughts, and fear of missing out (FOMO). Over exposure can be detrimental to young developing minds because of their difficulty in self-regulating screen time. Risks increase which means they are more susceptible to peer pressure, inappropriate content, sexting, and cyberbullying. Additionally, too much of the blue light from phones or other devices can cause sleep disruptions adversely affecting one’s mental health.

2.   Social Media and Bullying

The term bullying is usually reserved for young people and most often refers to these behaviors as they occur at or near school.”[13] 25% of all teen aged social media users report that they have been bullied. Bullying is the repeated and deliberate harassment directed by one in a position of power toward one or more.[14] It can involve physical threats or behaviors, including assault, or indirect and subtle forms of aggression, including gossip and rumor spreading. ” Some bullies engage in “trolling,” i.e., deliberately, and disingenuously posting information to entice genuinely helpful people to respond (often emotionally), inflame or provoke others to “cancel” someone.

When social media is involved, it becomes cyber bullying. “Cyberbullying” is when someone repeatedly and intentionally harasses, mistreats, shames, threatens, or makes fun of another person online or while using cell phones or other electronic devices.”[15] 43% of teen users say they have been bullied while online. Cyber bullying can occur anywhere, 24/7, anonymously without face-to-face contact, is emotionally draining, physically exhausting, and can lead to adult- based PTSD, self-harm, and/or suicidal thoughts/actions.

3.   Social Networking and Catfishing

 Social networking is the practice of using a dedicated online platform to maintain contact, interact and collaborate with like-minded individuals, peers, friends, and family. It entails having connections in both the real and the digital worlds and can be a double-edged sword. On one end, it provides unrivalled social benefits, yet it can also make people more vulnerable to the spread of misinformation, as well as privacy and security threats, like “catfishing.” 

“Catfishing” refers to the social networking practice of setting up fake online profiles, most often for the purpose of luring another into a fraudulent romantic relationship. Some people use it to troll, harass, embarrass, humiliate, or seek revenge on others. Pedophiles and other predators have been known to create fake accounts pretending to be teens to begin relationships, encourage the sharing of intimate information, or to lure unassuming youth into meeting. These dangerous liaisons can result in child pornographic exploitation, kidnapping, sex trafficking, or even death.

Newly created accounts can also be used to steal someone’s identity, impersonate them, damage their reputation, or perpetrate malicious, even criminal acts. Sometimes catfishers hide their identities so that they can extort money from the person targeted.

Catfishing also can occur during employment job searches. It happens after responding to a posted job announcement during the interview process; the employer tells you the job’s one thing, but after you are hired it’s totally different from what you expected. Most job catfishing incidents can be chalked up to poor communication and misunderstandings, but if an employer intentionally pulled a bait and switch, committed fraud, or breached your contract; seeking legal guidance may be a logical choice.[16]

4.   Mitigating the Effects of Social Media

 Some of the most dangerous social media apps are highly hackable, do not have age verification, let people chat without a username, make it difficult to set privacy settings, create secret encrypted conversations, insert sexually deviant/explicit content, solicit anonymous confessions and use GPS tracking to stalk users. Applications of this nature are particularly unsafe and are best avoided.

 Always do research before posting on social media. Research helps to adapt your content to prevent becoming embarrassed, targeted, or worse. Whether it is a photo, a hashtag, text, or a video, research to see if there is any way it could be taken the wrong way[17]. If the content posted is too inflammatory or places one in a detrimental light, remove it from as many locations as possible. Hide or delete any inappropriate posts; archive photos and deactivate old accounts. Use tools like tweetdelete, and brandyourself.com to monitor and/or eliminate negative impacts. Make sure to describe yourself on your public profiles in the way that you want to be known. In some cases, you can limit what other people share about you.

 Use search engine optimization (SEO), content creation, and strategic outreach to establish a protective barrier, a kind of firewall of positive and preferred content that defends your reputation against negative search results. The more controllable assets you own, the easier it is to remove search results from the first page of Google[18]. Finally, use websites like snopes.com, Fact Check, and/or PolitiFact to fact check posted information.

 Additionally, every social media and networking channel has privacy settings that let you restrict how visible you are. With most services, there is an icon in the upper right corner of the opening screen for a menu that includes a privacy settings option.[19] Do not allow others to “tag” you in posts or photos without your permission. If the post is questionable in some way, you may also be viewed as questionable through association.

 If your online profile has been hacked, update your security, run a scan, delete any malware, and change the account’s password. Make sure any future logins are secure. Report misused information to IdentityTheft.gov. Alert friends and connections about being hacked; warn them not to accept invitations or clink on any links.

Victims of phishing scams should change all their passwords immediately. Use stronger passwords and consider multi-factor authentication. Often people use the same password for multiple sites. Remove online search histories from any sites that have been visited. Cybercriminals could be in the process of gaining access to your other accounts on commonly used sites.[20] Think you’ve been scammed: File your complaint at www.ftc.gov. If you are or have been catfished make sure that you don’t send any information or incriminating pictures. Make sure you block the catfish from your social accounts and change your settings to ensure privacy. To prevent job catfishing thoroughly research the company, review the job description during the interview, discuss the employer’s expectations, and ask what a routine day is like. If catfished by an employer, seeking legal guidance may be a logical choice. If anything, consider writing a Glassdoor review to help others avoid a similar experience in the future.[21]

If you are being or have been cyberbullied, do not make the incident(s) worse by re-reading messages repeatedly. Limit the time spent on social media. Make your profile inaccessible. If you know who is doing it, set your privacy settings to block their postings. Do not respond; do not retaliate in kind, it only escalates the situation and cedes power to the bully. Report incidents to a reputable authority, the bully’s internet service provider, and delete the messages. Teens should get help from their parents’ a/o counselors, find someone you trust for support.

5.   Conclusion

Social media is an internet-based way to publicly share ideas, opinions, thoughts, and information using computer-based technology. It is used all over the world by individuals, groups, businesses, and governments. It can be used as a means of expression, to make recommendations, discuss issues, shape opinions, influence decisions, create trends, promote lifestyles, learn new things, build communities, mobilize groups, affect popularity, or simply to connect with others. For some groups, because of the speed of search engines, social media has become their preferred source of information. However, preference does not always equate to source reliability or credibility. Use websites like snopes.com, Fact Check, and/or  PolitiFact fact check information.

Social media is also vulnerable to invasions of privacy, misinformation, misuse, and malicious intent and/or code. Users can risk negative experiences such as cyber bullying, stalking, identity theft, personal attacks, phishing, being catfished and having their personal information misused. Still there are mitigating strategies and resources available that can be applied to address these risks.

Improper, inappropriate, excessive usage can jeopardize one’s reputation, academic performance, and employment opportunities. Over exposure can interfere with important obligations and be detrimental to a person’s mental health and wellbeing. Yet, when used appropriately, social media can raise awareness, entertain, educate, inspire; and afford an outlet for creativity and self-expression.

[1] Demographics of Social Media Users and Adoption in the United States, https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/fact-sheet/social-media/. Pew Research Center

[2] “[Solved] What is the meaning of a social profile and a …”)

[3] The impact of “cancel culture” on art — Counterbalance, https://www.thecounterbalance.org/articles/the-impact-of-cancel-culture-on-art.

[4] The impact of “cancel culture” on art — Counterbalance, https://www.thecounterbalance.org/articles/the-impact-of-cancel-culture-on-art.

[5] The social media gap in crisis communications, http://go.everbridge.com/rs/everbridge/images/SocialMediaReport.pdf.

[6] Reported by the Pew Research Center

[7] FAMOUS PERSONNEL INFLUENCE CUSTOMER BUYING IN MALAYSIA (final).docx …, https://www.coursehero.com/file/140074360/FAMOUS-PERSONNEL-INFLUENCE-CUSTOMER-BUYING-IN-MALAYSIA-finaldocx/.

[8] What is Social Media Marketing? https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/what-social-media-marketing-mujjammel-hoqe.

[9] The Importance Of Social Media Marketing, https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/importance-social-media-marketing-apu-miah.

[10] How Does Social Media Influence Employment | Library of Career, https://libraryofcareer.com/faq/how-does-social-media-influence-employment/.

[11] Ibid

[12] Top 7 Impacts of Social Media: Advantages and Disadvantages

[13] “Cyberbullying Flashcards | Quizlet”

[14] “Social Media, Cyberbullying, & Online Safety Terms To Know”

[15] According to the Cyber Bullying Resource Center

[16] What to Do When a New Job Isn’t What You Expected – The Muse, https://www.themuse.com/advice/what-you-can-realistically-do-when-your-new-job-catfishes-you.

[17] Advantages and Disadvantages of Social Media For Small Businesses …, https://webstod.com/advantages-and-disadvantages-of-social-media-for-small-businesses/.

[18] Reputation Protection – 5 Ways to Protect Your Online …, https://www.reputationmanagement.com/blog/reputation-protection/.

[19] How Social Media Impacts Job Search – AARP, https://www.aarp.org/work/job-search/social-media-impacts/.

[20] Email Phishing, Vishing & Other Types of Attacks – Webroot, https://www.webroot.com/us/en/resources/tips-articles/what-is-phishing.

[21] Ibid, footnote 16

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