Navigating the bad side of online connection


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The internet brought about a lot of digital innovations that have made human society so different from how it was half a century ago. Talk of how email has changed the way we formally communicate with one another. It has also become a convenient platform for how we are entertained today and is almost about to make movie theatres a thing of the past. But I see social media as the most remarkable development that came out of internet use so far.

Social media has given us the tools to easily connect and reconnect with people. And with all these connections, we are able to share our thoughts, experiences, life moments, and emotions with just the touch of a button. It has also changed how we look at phones and use them.

Social media has also been shown to have many faces. They can be used both to strengthen or destroy relationships, easily spread truths and lies, and develop or destroy the self-esteem of users. It is supposed to be used as an effective tool for building communities, but several studies have also shown that it makes us more lonely, isolated, and depressed. Social media has become an enigma, so difficult to understand.

Increased online connectivity has benefits like connecting people, sharing information, accelerating community building, and is a very effective tool for supporting social causes. But we all must be aware of its bad side and use the tool responsibly. We need to develop more guardrails to ensure that their use will not result in addiction, cyberbullying, and a platform for committing criminal activities.

Several studies have looked at the psychology of social media. The addictive nature of social media can have a negative impact on a user's mental health leading to anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem. A lot of us use it to assess our worth by comparing ourselves to others leading to feelings of insecurity. It is not uncommon for people to use the platform to share their happy and braggy moments causing envy and sometimes self-doubt among people who follow them. Social media encourages users to present an idealized version of their lives, often showcasing only the positive aspects. This can lead to a distorted reality, where people compare themselves to unreal standards and feel pressured to present a distorted perfect image. These studies also show that the constant need for validation through likes, comments, and followers can actually lead to feelings of inadequacy.
It also plays to our inherent desire to belong and that is why social media can be effective in helping us address our need to be part of a community and give us both the sense of family and unity. The platform can easily provide for these needs because the barriers to belonging are relatively non-existent.

The benefits are immense but its use has definitely created other concerns. Foremost among them is the fact that it is being used today for the rapid spread of false and misleading information. Due to the ease of sharing content, fake news can quickly go viral and create confusion and potential harm. We all have seen how fake news has actually destroyed reputations including political careers.

Anonymity and virtual distance can embolden individuals to engage in online harassment, cyberbullying, and trolling which, some people say, has become a very effective tool in Philippine politics. It is also believed that its excessive use can hinder face-to-face interactions leading to lessened social skills and deeper feelings of loneliness and isolation. It may also contribute to more misunderstandings and conflicts because online communications lack verbal cues.

We all need to understand that these platforms are designed to be engaging and addictive. It makes us fixated on our screens excessively which may lead to time wasting. We can easily get hooked on scrolling through feeds, watching videos, or checking notifications that can easily impact, not just our productivity, but also our personal relationships and well-being.

Privacy issues keep bubbling up with the use of social media platforms because they often collect and store massive amounts of personal information which they often use for targeted advertising or even shared with third parties without explicit consent. This definitely raises concerns about privacy and the potential misuse of personal information. Remember, these platforms earn their bucks from advertising revenues.

These social media platforms have revolutionized the way we communicate and offer numerous benefits but we all have to understand their potential pitfalls. It is therefore crucial to use social media sensibly and adopt a habit of responsible usage. [email protected]
(The author is the lead convenor of the Alliance for Technology Innovators for the Nation (ATIN), vice president of the Analytics Association of the Philippines, and vice president, UP System Information Technology Foundation.)