The good and bad of social media

In this connected age, an increased number of students frequenting Facebook indicates how much the students are involved in the virtual world of social networking.

Increased use of internet-connected smartphones has led to strong gains in the user base of social media. About 84% of Facebook users in India access the social networking site on mobile phones and almost one-third of the Facebook users in the country belong to the 18-24 age group. In this connected age, an increased number of students frequenting Facebook indicates how much the students are involved in the virtual world of social networking. From pings and posts to the pokes and emoticons, everything exists to bring people together, to make the world more connected.

Apart from this, the reasons why students use social networking sites like Facebook are many. They give immense freedom for students to get liberated and become ultra-social. These young minds find networking sites as a platform to create identities that the real world generally does not permit. 

Every social media has two sides — bright and dark. It can either be a help or a hindrance depending on the way how students use it. It is a known fact that social media is being used for hiring, as an educational and entertainment tool, and as a platform for people to like and get liked. These platforms are also being used to craft a ‘positioning’ for oneself.

Advantages

Recruitment: Social media is increasingly used as a medium to spread awareness about one’s likes and dislikes, hobbies and talent, and skills and competencies. Over 90% of the recruiters review social media profile of the candidate before making a hiring decision. The digital image does send signals about the personality, identity and attitudes of a candidate. Recruiters interpret and judge the profile of a job seeker. Today, LinkedIn is a popular medium where prospective employees and employers are brought together and hiring takes place. 

Educational tool: If used effectively, social media provides immense opportunities for self-and active-learning. Students, through active engagement — a core feature of social media — can find immense opportunities to collect and interpret a plethora of information about a subject or domain they are passionate about. For effective learning, one may follow relevant pages, channels and people on social media. But ensure that these channels offer authentic information. Social media offers the opportunity for getting engaged with the right set of people regardless of time and space and provide a platform to learn new things, exchanging ideas and honing one’s networking skills. Across academic institutions, teachers and academicians use social networking sites as an effective medium for learning.

Being on social media platforms, students may explore the possibility of being a teacher or a trainer. Today, students utilise YouTube and Facebook — among other social media — to create their own channels and pages through which they train and coach people in various domains like music, dance, finance, science, etc. Instagram is used by many students to showcase their talents, especially photography. 

Like and comment: Apart from getting connected with extended family and friends, students use this medium to ‘Like’, ‘Comment’ and ‘Share’ the content they like about peers and in the process, motivate them to do so in return. The process of ‘Liking’ and ‘Being Liked’ — for positive content — may lead to the spread of palatable social signals. Social networking platforms help develop social capital for students.

Better perspectives: Social media can be used to develop better perspectives on issues and events. Also, as per estimates, more than 30% of college administration and teachers review students’ profiles on social media. Point to ponder over!

Challenges

Take a look at the darker side of the use of social media. These platforms may literally act as a hindrance for the progressive development of a student. Learning process of a student is believed to be jeopardised by the overuse of social media. Health issues, specifically mental health-related ones, severe addiction leading to isolation from real-life friends, loss of productive time, identity crisis and negative academic performance are perceived to be the major pitfalls of social media overuse. 

Health issues: It is found that students are using social media to vent out their frustrations. Their feeds, most of the times, lead to an endless stream of stress. It is found, through research, that one negative post of a person will influence 1.3 negative posts by friends, leading to a chain of feeds that might result in stress and negative moods. Cyberbullying, having a distorted view of other people’s opinions and a perceived waste of time are some of the factors that lead to stress. Some of the studies have established a link between excessive use of social media and sleep disturbance. 

Envious behaviour: Research shows that if envy is controlled, social media may not induce depression. It is a known fact that the incidence of envious posts is increasing on social networking sites, leading to a vicious circle. This, in turn, leads to inferiority complex and jealousy. Students blindly aspiring to follow lifestyles depicted by their peers on social media is another point of concern. 

Delusions: Most of the students are invariably trapped in the thought that social media will help and thus they keep coming back to it, even though such an act does not really make them feel better. This ‘forecasting error’ is similar to the ones found in other addictions. It is shown through surveys that students who excessively engage with these platforms feel worse after using them, as compared to people who engage in other activities. 

Reduction in productivity: Students tend to chat with ‘friends’ for hours leading to a waste of time that could have been used for studying, playing or learning new skills and acquiring needed competencies. Students who are excessively active on social media platforms struggle to find the time needed for academic activities. 

Addiction: A study on psychological characteristics, personality and social media concludes that it might be plausible to speak specifically of ‘Facebook Addiction Disorder’. This is clearly because many of the addiction criteria such as neglect of personal life, mental preoccupation, escaping from reality, mood modifying experiences, and concealing the addictive behaviour appear to be present in people who use social networks excessively. 

Academic performance: A number of studies have linked social media usage to academic performance. Effective and smarter way of using social media may help students improve their academic performance. However, excessive use leads to the lack of independent thinking and scarcity of productive time for improving academic performance. However, lesser and lesser students are limiting their engagement with social networking sites for academic purposes.  

Privacy issues: In the quest to achieving higher social quotient, many students tend to share beyond-optimum-level of personal data with their contacts. It is a known fact that information that is fed to social media is increasingly misused for the purposes of cyberbullying, defamation, hacking personal accounts, etc.

Evading physical society: More friends on social media does not mean you are a social person! As loneliness is linked to a plethora of health and psychological disorder issues, getting real social support is a must. Students must realise that virtual friend-time does not have the real therapeutic effect as spending time with real friends. A study finds that social media use is linked to a greater feeling of social isolation. This study reveals that the more time people spend on social media sites, the more socially isolated they become.

Getting hooked on to social media for the reason of killing time or needing an emotional lift is surely the worst idea. Students may try taking a 15-day break from using social media and see how it goes in boosting their psychological well-being. If not, one can attempt to use it in moderation. Students who are ‘educated’ on social media know how to use it effectively and safely. It is imperative that every student must research and gets trained on the effective use of social media. And ultimately, it is in students’ hands to turn social media as a help or a hindrance!

(The author is associate professor, CMS Business School, Jain University, Bengaluru)

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