The last two decades have brought a revolution in how we perceive the world and interact with the people in it. With the explosion of major social media websites in the early 2000s, such as MySpace, LinkedIn, Flikr, the Internet witnessed the arrival of Facebook and Twitter in 2006. In an unprecedented manner, Facebook changed the way information was being shared with people sitting on two different ends of the world. Followed soon by the launch of Tumblr, Pinterest, Spotify etc, the 21st century soon became the digital age of communication.
Social media’ is a term coined to refer to websites (and applications) which have been designed to provide a digital platform where users can communicate swiftly and in real-time. These platforms allow for the sharing of written content and audio-visual content. Additionally, one can also interact with other users to discuss ideas, opinions, events and even do business. Today, with the infinite potential of accessing millions of users globally, social media has also become a sound source of commerce and marketing for innumerable people.
While most of us may think that social media is a recent development, it was initiated several centuries ago in the form of handwritten letters that could be posted to people. Then, in the 1700s, arrived at the Telegraph, where short messages could be sent much faster than the post. In the 1800s, the revolutionary telephone and the radio were invented, where the transmission of information was immediate. This revolution inspired the supercomputers invented later to form connections with other computers; this was the birth of the Internet.
The power of social media expands beyond basic communication and social interaction. Social media can be of great use in the field of education too. By giving open access to hundreds and thousands of books, papers, literary journals, and other academic sources, students can gather information from libraries sitting at home. With the rising number of education channels on Youtube, students can also see lectures and demonstrations of difficult concepts online. This broadens their perspectives and deepens their understanding of a wide range of material. Furthermore, these resources are also highly beneficial for teachers and educators, who can seek inspiration from other teachers to make their teaching more creative, engaging and exciting for their learners.
However, as with any great invention, there are both advantages and disadvantages. With the benefits of social media, email, chat apps, video conferencing, there are also various disadvantages. Today, our young adults and teenagers often have unlimited access to social media. With Youtube, Whatsapp, Instagram, and Snapchat gathering immense momentum and easy accessibility on mobile phones, most teenagers and even adults have become ‘digitally-addicted’.
This digital addiction makes it imperative for us to educate our children about the various ways in which they can remain safe and secure from unknown users gathering confidential information online. With cyber crimes on the rise, education and awareness are critical for both parents and children.
Today, on Social Media Day (30 June), here are some useful tips, which can help us stay safe while we are online:
- Use strong passwords: A strong password is one with at least 8 characters, which should be a combination of letters, numbers and special characters. You should also avoid using the same passwords for different accounts, and should change your passwords frequently.
- NEVER share your passwords with anyone (except with your parents): Online or offline, never share your passwords with anyone. However, it is encouraged that you share your passwords with your parents who can ensure that you are cyber safe and are not a victim to cyberbullying.
- Do not share any personal information with anyone online: Personal information like your full name, address, date of birth, parents’ name etc, can provide an opportunity for online theft and for strangers to bully you.
- Do not click on malicious-looking content: Avoid opening emails and messages from people you do not know, and from strange usernames. They often contain viruses and spam content.
- Do not accept friend requests from strangers: They could be ‘catfishing’, where an adult pretends to be of your age and may have harmful intentions.
- Discuss strange behavior and communication with a parent: If someone approaches you online, and you feel uncomfortable, you must notify your parent immediately.
- Remember, nothing ever disappears once shared online: Whether it is Snapchat, Instagram or Whatsapp, nothing ever really disappears once you share it online. Do not upload any inappropriate images or personal information about you, even if you think it will disappear in 24 hours.
- Stay aware and stay alert.
Parents of minors are always advised to stay aware of their child’s online activity. While we do not encourage you to “spy” on your children, we suggest that you build the space for open and honest communication. Parents need to not only educate their children about the various risks of social media but also need to place trust in their children. With the establishment of this trust, children will be more open to sharing their feelings, and they will be more likely to report any suspicious behavior of/with people online. If a child reports an incident of cyberbullying, it is advisable to take action yourself against the bully, instead of placing blame on your child.
Amidst these risks, there are also various health concerns that need to be considered. Several research studies have shown that social media can be detrimental to both physical and mental health. With several hours of the day is spent online, users can often develop self-esteem issues, by becoming envious of ‘perfect lives’ being portrayed by others. The term ‘FOMO’, the acronym for ‘Fear Of Missing Out’, has become widely used by teenagers who see their peers enjoying themselves (with online photos as evidence), and compare it to their own ‘boring lives’. This further develops into the feelings of isolation and low self-confidence. Excessive screen time has also shown to decrease the quality of sleep, attention span, and the ability to concentrate. It also worsens overall anxiety and can even cause depression in vulnerable young adults.
There is no doubt in accepting that social media has changed the way we look at the world, however, today, while we are grateful for its impact in making our lives easier, we are also wary of how it can be detrimental for our emotional and mental wellbeing. We cannot ‘switch off’ from the world anymore, but we can certainly switch off our phones sometimes, and spend quality time with our family and friends physically present around us.