Policy Point-Counterpoint: The Good and The Bad of the Social Media Revolution.


Social media comprises a significant share of human interaction, commanding an increasing proportion of time and social space. Whole generations have now been born into the world of social media. The ubiquitous presence of social media--whether it be Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, YouTube, or Reddit--has made it a strong agent of socialization, a force that significantly shapes a person's beliefs, values, and behaviors. Yet, research on the effects of social media at both the micro and the macro level are still in the nascent stages. The use of social media may offer increasing connectedness, with a subsequent loss of intimacy in those relationships. In other words, while we connect to more people, the connections tend toward the instrumental. At the macro level, social media appears to be a potential driver of social change, as evidenced by its use in fomenting the Arab Spring and other acts in organizing political resistance.

The question of whether or not social media is a positive or negative force in the world remains a fundamentally open question. Perhaps the question is even a false dichotomy. Indeed, much social change has both positive and negative consequences. Elements of culture that benefit one group may disadvantage another. Technologies that have positive consequences in society often also have negative consequences.

In this policy point-counterpoint, sociology students Jesse Goranson and Lawrence Kastriba discuss whether social media operates as a positive social force or as a negative one. Jesse Goranson argues that social media can act to promote democratization among otherwise disadvantaged groups. By connecting individuals from disadvantaged groups, the scalability of social media increases the social capital of the group members, thus giving the group a greater voice in society and allows them greater participation in the political process.

Lawrence Kastriba contends that the same social media technologies that increase political and social participation also allow corporations and governments access to formerly private information. Corporations like Google and Facebook collect and sell detailed information about users for profit. Drawing on the example of social credit scores now being experimented with in China, Lawrence Kastriba shows how governments can apply social media technologies to increase social stratification and control the population. He suggests that social media can be used by governments in a similar way as they are used by businesses--to track the trends and movements of the populace. He suggests that social media is an effective tool for control over populations.

Point: Social Media Increase Democratization

The studying of the benefits of social media often occupies the margins of social narratives. Research that exists on the benefits of social media is generally limited to their role in teaching and learning. (1) Conversely, the drawbacks of social media are commonly discussed, centering on tropes of people being unable to disconnect from their phones. Terms such as "screenager" capture the belief that adolescents are more interested in social media than in going outside or engaging in face-to-face socialization. The effects can even be felt in the job market, as companies struggle to find people with adequate socializing skills. While some of these observations may contain valid points, the benefits of social media far outweigh the disadvantages.

An ethnographic study conducted by the University College London analyzed how different cultures across the world used social media. (2) One of the concepts uncovered was scalable sociality. Scalable sociality is the ability to pick and choose the publicity and size of your sociality, which basically translates into that people get to decide how many people they are communicating with at once...

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