Over the past decade, communication has changed and social media has played a significant role in this change. Starting from telephone calls, a growing number of people uses social network sites, and today, you can even video-call someone. The new era of social media has influenced, and still influences, our ways of life.

The way we get information and interact with it, the way we interact with ourselves and with one another, has changed. Social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, WhatsApp, among others, are now inseparable from our offline encounters.

Smartphones are seemingly glued to the palms of our hands: you may have seen someone scrolling on their phones in the streets or others on zebra-crossing. You entered a classroom and more than a half of the students were busy on their phones (and few others on their laptops) during a lecture. You chat overnight: sometimes you have the phone keeping you awake in the bed. Some call this “social media addiction.”

Although it has yet not been declared a diagnostic matter, it needs to be addressed. We enthusiastically use social media but it may consequently impede our well-being and sociability.

It is hard to admit that you are addicted to social media. Some prefer calling themselves active to designating themselves addicted; they interpret it. This is explained by sociologist Stanley Cohen in his book States of Denial. He calls it an “interpretive denial” in which facts are not denied but given another meaning. One may say “I am a social drinker, not an alcoholic”.

As we are used to performing many tasks online, we may belittle the quantity of time spent on social networks. There is an estimation that, on average, the global internet users spend two hours a day, exceeding two days a month, on social networking sites.

You should be aware of the severe consequences. The time spent on social media can’t necessarily be measured by hours, but rather by the cost and harm it does to us, our friends or the society. Research showed that a lack of concentration becomes significant. This is an effect of multitasking.

Think of the student following a lecture, scrolling on Facebook and thinking of how many people have posted on Instagram while receiving a message on WhatsApp. They can hardly put effort into one task. They won’t follow the lecture attentively. Then the result will be limited, low grade or failure.

Researchers also highlight degraded thinking capacity as an effect of social media use. Psychologists, Mark D. Griffiths and Daria J. Kuss, warn “decrease in involvement in real-life communities” resulting from the excessive use of social networking sites. Some people are active and socialize online but fail when offline, in person.

They feel less confident. And to these people, social media means almost everything. Addicted users find it hard to decide or think for themselves. They depend on “what’s trending.”

The mounting popularity of “selfies” impacts a person’s self-esteem. Posting edited and manipulated images is an outcome of “idealized” beauty. One tends to think their original appearance isn’t good enough to be posted on Instagram or Snapchat; and resort to photo-editing apps (filters) to boost likes and compliments.

We seem to have put our whole trust in social media accounts; the bulk of our privacy data are stored on Facebook accounts. But the recent Facebook data scandal over users’ personal data accessed by Cambridge Analytica is alerting.

Up to 87 million Facebook users got impacted and their private data was reported inappropriately collected without users’s consent. This is a resounding alert that we pay attention to when posting and sharing our moments or even storing data.

The mainstream media (radio, television, newspapers) is no longer the only source of news. Social media today is source of news and information. But it may provide unreliable news. “Fake news” rampages. A recent study by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) scholars found that fake news, on Twitter, spreads faster than a true story.

“A false story reaches 1500 people 6 times quicker than a true story does.” There are many false stories about business, politics, terrorism, wars, and science and technology. Media scholars recommend fact-checking (analyzing, critiquing, evaluating and understanding news from different news platforms).

We should not rely on one source of information, or else we are likely to be misled.

You may not quit

But it is not all bad. There are people who have decided to use the social networks appropriately. They use Facebook and Twitter as channels of communicating and spreading ideas and have influenced people. Others make money from advertisement.

With the tempting part of social media, there remain ways to combat addiction. Turning off sound notification helps to concentrate and not to get distracted so easily. Limit the number of social media apps to those you find more important.

Don’t stick to apps when you can meet people in person. Finding hobbies helps more than bothering with phones. Be a good editor; not every photo deserves to be posted. Good times are not really proven by selfie-smiles. Rather, enjoy your time with people. Choosing what you need is better.

There was a time when we had no social media. The changing world brought social networking sites. This generation is at stake, with misleading information and tempting images and videos. We live in a dual-world—the real and the virtual. We can’t restore the status quo; our own decision is the option.

Social media is not safe and proof against intrusion, in fact it has leaks. The social media platforms have facilitated communication and we cannot underestimate the saved needless expenses. But keeping quiet and pretending, not to see the negative side, means we are blinding our minds to the truth and reality.

This article was first published by The Kaminuza Star.

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