The Not-So-Pretty Side of Social Media!

Aug 09, 2019
by Digitalabs

Everybody is on social media. From your cousin, twice removed, with whom you haven't spoken to in years, to your hairdresser's cat with a personality stronger than yours, we really mean everybody. Social media has such a massive chunk of our lives that it has seeped out its virtual constraints and has taken over our daily existence too. 
Brunch meet with your friends? Need to take a flatlay photo of that aesthetic avocado toast and that photogenic mimosa! A vacation with your bae? Gotta take those hand-holding-the-cameraman pics with the gorgeous sunset! Solo trip to the mountains? Were you even there if you don't have pictures which scream 'looking away to nothingness and contemplating existence'? 
Social media has stopped being just an online activity and has taken over our offline existence too. The question remains, how much is too much?
Even though it is a widespread belief that human beings are sane enough to make an informed call of judgment, sometimes this belief is challenged, shaken and shattered to the core when we hear of these social media incidents. It can be a prank gone wrong, insane challenges or creating virtual riots. 
Social media opens up doors for everyone and any person with a rickety old laptop and a wifi connection who has something to say. And the credibility of the opinion? Most often highly questionable! 
Sometimes, it can lead to awesome things, raise awareness, and provide a lucrative channel for one to explore and express. While there are other times, when you can slip into the rabbit hole to the dark side of social media, and the repercussions are nothing short of scarring. 
 Let us take a pleasant walk in the park and look at the ugly underbelly of social media, shall we?

Increased consumerism

Since social media lends a more personal touch to a brand, it is easier for different brands to sneak into the psyche of the consumers. It can be through aesthetic product shots or influencer promotions, thereby contributing to the world of excessive consumerism. 
With higher incomes, more access to brands, instant gratification and the digital marketing tactics which makes it impossible to escape a brand, there is a fair chance that a potential customer ends up succumbing to the temptation. 
There were days where you might have saved up for a pair of Nike or have planned over months for a summer trip, but now, everything can be done right now! In Ariana Grande's word, 'I see it, I like it, I want it, I got it', thanks to credit cards, EMIs, and just a big fat bank balance. The need is never-ending, and so are the products, thereby feeding the unhealthy culture of excessive consumerism.
After the wave of rush is over, you are left with a lot of stuff that you don't need, bad credit, an unhappy post-purchase gloom, and a lower self-esteem than before.

Body image

Do you sometimes look at a ripped body of someone online and come out of it feeling a little sad? Is the #wokeuplikethis picture of your friend with perfectly tousled hair and dewy skin making you cringe about your old T-shirt with a stain on it and the throbbing pimple which seems to have made a home on your face and making you feel like a potato? 
While most fitness and beauty influencers do their work under the veil of motivation, it sometimes leaves you with nothing but a sinking feeling of dread. Then comes issues like body dysmorphia, anorexia, bulimia, crash dieting, taking diet pills or laxatives. And that never ends well!
It is disheartening to see perfectly beautiful people stressing about how they look fat and disgusting and general self-hate talk. The egos are fragile, and social media is merciless like a bull in a china shop. It is a disaster waiting to happen. 
In a study done by Mills and Hogue, they found that being subject to social media engagement with attractive peers significantly increases a negative body image, which is a sad state of affairs. So even though the beauty and fitness influencers might be meaning well with their self-love quotes and no-makeup pictures, it is detrimental to the mental health of the young adults who might be looking up to them. It thereby affecs the happiness quotient and the health of many in its wake. 

Echo chambers

Social Media is notorious for its echo chambers where the learning algorithm creates a fabricated feed that resonates with your likings, opinions, and faith. It often misguides and compromises on your ability to reflect critically by keeping you in a bubble of personal bias. In this bubble, you interact and connect with people and groups who share and confirm your thoughts and beliefs. 
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google and almost every other social platform are designed on algorithms that allow you to create your own bubble and filter out anything or anyone that's not in harmony with your area of interests. 
Take Facebook, for example, here you deliberately pick your own groups based on your existing friends and existing appetite for information or entertainment. You become part of discussions, see videos, images, circulate memes, and statuses that match with your beliefs. Based on your inclination, the algorithms of the website stop providing you diverse content, and you ultimately become a part of one of the many echo chambers that exist in the micro-universe of social media. 
Why is it spooky? According to a study in PNAS (Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences), "The researchers saw that active Facebook users were more likely to interact with a limited number of news sources. Additionally, the more active a community was, the more self-segregated and polarized it was." 
Such polarization means people cherry-pick the information and spread it further amongst their closed groups. Complicated issues get a limited perspective that often ignores any viewpoint which contradicts. Thus the information which ends up circulating is heavily polluted with prejudiced outlook.

Manipulation

Amongst the many potential perils of social media, manipulating the public behavior, and influencing their opinion for incentives (both economic and social) by groups and individuals is something to watch out for. Those mindless scrollings, page likes, post likes, videos by popular influencers are every day manipulating our lives and opinions without us even realizing. 
Thousands of lies, misinformation, government propaganda primarily during elections use the power of social media to seep into the mind of users and interfere with the public opinion. Bruce Schneir, a cryptographer, security expert and author of several books such as Liars and Outliers in an article on Arts Technica explains how social media heavily bombards with information that blends with our personal likings and challenges our thinking making us less well informed. 
While this platform has been used to spread awareness for causes and call for attention at the time for crisis, we can't ignore how it has also been exploited. The offline activities are intertwined with online activities, and besides being used to deceive the public by marketing products and solutions based on false reviews, it is also used to trigger fear, generate mass rumors and panic. Many terror groups like ISIS use social media to spread their propaganda along with recruitment.
This has turned into an ideal platform for manipulation, where if you post anything and call it "authentic," the followers will blindly believe and push it forward. 

Privacy

In April 2018, Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook testified in front of Congress while responding to Cambridge Analytica Data Scandal. What startled every social media user is the realization that they had been trading not only their birthday dates, liked pages information but even private messages while signing up for quizzes on Facebook. 
This was a breach of privacy, something the users were not even aware of. In fact, if you are on social media, you cannot avoid privacy risks. Your privacy is invaded through data scraping, where data is collected from your social media profiles and from other websites you visit where your profile is connected. 
Your personal data is leaked by Facebook to third parties and advertisers often without your consent. Which means all your personal data is right out there! Even though its to improve advertising and target you with the right products and information that you seek, but if it doesn't have a user's consent, it is an invasion of one's privacy. If this doesn't scare you, we don't know what will. 
Social Media also tracks your activity through cookies; it knows what you like, what you follow, and what you share. While cookies are great for advertisers, the information can often be hacked and used unethically putting the user's privacy in danger.
While you can't take steps to control or eliminate data scraping and tracking, you can edit your privacy settings on social media to minimize the risks.
 

Conclusion

Social media is a double-edged weapon which can either be the best thing that ever happened or can land you in a sticky spot. Everybody is active, expressing themselves, and from one’s new shoes to one’s favourite song is out there for the world to see. 
It is their personal digital journal, which is not so private anymore, considering that privacy is often at stake. Like every good thing out there, social media comes with its own fun cartload of dangerous impacts. And with the look of it, social media is not going anywhere anytime soon. 
Thus, we need to reassess, take back control and take responsibility for our actions before it is too late. Our attempt is not to scare you or ask you to completely  boycott the use of social media, but to use it smartly and responsibly. Don't believe everything that you see and hear. Seek out the real truth before blowing wind to the blazing fire. Do yourself a favor and keep your phone away once in a while and live a little. Social media detox every now and then can help you bring back your sanity. 
Gentle reminder: Social media is fun, but is not real life itself! 
 

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