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While the previous century was perhaps influenced most by the film and television industries, this century clearly belongs to the world wide web. Of all of the things that we have been affected by online, social media is perhaps the most powerful. This essay details some of the powerful negative effects of this particular tool on its users.
The majority of sites that people communicate on allow the use to upload a profile picture and make other images available for scrutiny. This encourages people to alter their images in order to appear more attractive and receive a certain number of ‘likes’, ‘shares’ and positive comments. The problem here comes from the fact that people may begin to assume that everyone else looks as good as they present themselves and that they alone are flawed. This lead to negative body image and may eventually lead to eating disorders.
Just as with body image, many users post images and status updates about their relationships that make them appear perfect when the reality is very different. They may assume that other couples are always out and having fun because the pictures tell that story and thus feel inadequate by their own comparison.
One of the key themes of social media is that sharing is a virtue. People want to have their thoughts validated as cute, funny or clever which motivates them to say things that they would otherwise recognize as damaging. They are just as likely to post inappropriate images of themselves that can be seen by anyone. These mistakes can never be completely eradicated and can mean the difference between being hired or ignored for a good position.
There have always been rumors and chain mail. At one point they spread much more slowly but with social media people can share such things to thousands of people in the blink of an eye. Some of these are fairly benign while others have resulted in gullible people endangering their health, losing their life savings and other unfortunate situations. Even worse, people who would like to help others start feeling like they have accomplished something by sharing a picture and feel less motivated to actually do good things.
As with any other tool, the good cannot be taken without the bad. As we mature as a species we will learn how to achieve that balance.
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