Social media literacy

As there are codes of conduct that we follow in our daily life, there are rules and regulations that one is expected to follow while engaged in social media networks

Technology has seeped into our deepest selves. Everyone everywhere is seen glued to the screen; be it at home, school, workplace, or even walking on the street. The role of social media has long been debated and the glut of information that this platform provides has no parallel.

Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter are now an inseparable part of our lives and the list of such platforms is expanding ceaselessly and exponentially. Not even a second goes spared without boasting about every bit that goes in our lives. Despite that, have we spared the same time and consideration to whether we actually know how to the use the platforms or not?

Social media literacy is a term that one could use to indicate how to use a particular site, or an app, or any similar social media tool. This is considerably been mistaken for knowing how to create an account and share updates. However, this is a broader term, encompassing the responsible use of social media, the knowledge of what to say and what to avoid, how to respond to other user’s opinion and build empathy and perspective.  Also, not to infringe other’s privacy and being aware of copyright policy and the consequences of breaking them.

As there are codes of conduct that we follow in our daily course of life, there are rules and regulations that one is expected to follow while engaged in social media networks. The first one is accepting the fact that, as social media is not limited to the boundary, it is a global platform. It is used by people of every age, race, culture, religion, and tradition.  This requires the user to understand that a message being conveyed could have more than one perspective, possibly even conflicting. The information being conveyed comes from an array of sources and there is no way to know about the motives behind each.

Hence, rather than being aggressive by one or two such contents we should not use the platform to spew hatred and misunderstandings. Each person shares his/her own opinion and it requires maturity to not generalize things on the basis of that. The respect for each other’s sentiments and recognizing each other’s point of views demands responsibility, so that the platform is both safe and constructive.

Secondly, being popular on social media is a crazy obsession that youth these days seek.  The more likes, comments and friends one has, the more popular he/she is considered. This is naïve, to be honest.  Psychologically, this has been proven disturbing as it muddles our perception of reality. Ultimately, we are compelled to create a different reality that might not be the same as our true self. This ideal self-online is extremely damaging to personal development when coupled with the factors of comparison and jealousy.

Alongside, the 24/7 usability of these sites leaves a person both mentally and psychologically drained. The constant use is stressful, physically damaging and makes us lose some of the real pleasures of life. A review study from Nottingham Trent University maintains similar claims. It coined the term; ‘Facebook Addiction Disorder’ and concluded that symptoms such as neglect of personal life, mental preoccupation, escapism, mood modifying experiences, tolerance and concealing the addictive behaviour, appear to be present in some people who use [social networks] excessively.

In fact, another study found that social media use is linked to greater feelings of social isolation. The team looked at how much people used 11 social media sites, including Facebook, Twitter, Google+, YouTube, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, Vine, Snapchat and Reddit, and correlated this with their “perceived social isolation.” Not surprisingly, it turned out that the more time people spent on these sites, the more socially isolated they perceived themselves to be.  What a miracle it would be to talk undistracted to people around us without having the urge to open the notifications continuously bombing our phone screens. There is a need for balanced use, taking care of the affairs of online and real self equally and avoiding addiction at all cost.

The registration processes of almost all social media tools oblige the user to a detailed list of agreements. Habitually, not all read what it entails, because if one did, he/she would understand how accurately the privacy and general guidelines are stated there. We nonchalantly agree and follow them without knowing what we are signing up for and getting ourselves into.

Respect for each other’s privacy is another rational behaviour that social media sites want from its users. The content that one shares is someone’s property and no other user is allowed in any way to violate it. Even cyber bullying and impersonating through fake accounts are common practices that some people follow making the platform a nightmare for others.  They are then followed by consequences both legally and socially.

A similar attitude is expected from the operator of the medium; to make sure that their data is well protected and they execute what they profess. The revelation of the leak of personal information of up to 87 million Facebook users to Cambridge Analytica has recently sent ripples across the globe. This casts doubt over Facebook commitment to safeguarding its user’s privacy and security. Such unethical and deceptive acts by companies either for political or economic interests, without the consent of the users, will turn them down from further using the platform.  It underscores a key concern for both the users and the operator. Guiding principles together with a sound security policy will help the platform bloom well in the future.

Social media tools are a great source of networking and have widely been used for various purposes throughout the time. It is the responsibility of each user to be familiar with its responsible and friendly use so that its benefits are enjoyed by everyone.

As Erik Qualman has rightly summed it; “we don’t have a choice on whether we do social media, the question is how well we do it.”

The writer is a student and social entrepreneur

Published in Daily Times, May 19th 2018.