When I was a kid, the Internet was young like me. Email was intangible—seemingly useless, flip phones were basically glorified pagers and social media was almost non-existent. Watching my older sister instant message off of our snail-paced, dial-up connection was the closest we came to texting—and texting was a ludicrous idea in itself. No thanks, I’d rather just call you.
As I was ending high school I had created my first Instagram account, I was experimenting with Twitter and Vine, and as a sophomore in college I took my first snapchat.
The online world of social media had exploded.
Fast forward to 2015, where according to the Global Web Index, the average person spends over 2 hours every day checking their social media alone. Our constant access to an online world has led us into a generation of high visibility: anything, and everything we do, we can publicize to uncountable numbers of people. We have the ability to be distinctive online. Through social media we can post, share, or upload anything about ourselves; we can be anything we want to be, and with some individuals, this power has been abused.
Recently we have been subject to destructive Internet commentary condemning social media. You may have heard of Australian Instagram model, Essena O’Neill: a teenager who had a vast social media following, and was widely popular on a myriad of online communication platforms, most notably: Youtube, Instagram, and Twitter. Just last week she gained a lot of media attention for coming clean about a lot of her posts, mainly on Instagram. She righteously admitted how most of her Instagram photos had been strategically planned, and articulately staged in order to present what she refers to as a contrived perfection of herself, made simply to get attention.
She re-captioned a lot of her Instagram posts, uploaded a passionate Youtube video about how social media is wholly fake, and has since deleted most of her virtual accounts.
O’Neill’s experience exposes a major downfall of social media: fearing that because we do have ample ability to control every minute detail of what we post, we therein create a false appearance of perfection to reflect upon ourselves. It’s almost as if social media is our advertising agency, and we gladly provide the ads that showcase us as flawless humans. If not careful, she warns that with social media we can become self-obsessed: searching for praise, and self-worth through ‘likes’ on our pictures, and posts, ultimately concluding that most everything online is unreal, and fake.
While I do find that it is strong of her to expose a major fault of social media by using herself as example, I also think that where social media is the sword, the person wielding it has control over using it destructively or constructively. O’Neill misused the power of social media.
Online communication serves a much greater purpose, and should not be condemned as ‘fake’ or ‘unreal,’ as it is very much the opposite.
Through social media, we can connect ourselves more closely to global reality than we have ever been able to prior. We can connect with humans instantly across the planet, we can generate support groups, we can further social issues, and we can facilitate desperately needed social change in our world. We can also promote our art, our thoughts, and the values that we stand for; all of which exist in the REAL WORLD.
These benefits to social networking are plentiful, and can be found all around us.
Remember the hash tag, #YesAllWomen? It was a great paradigm for how social media can be a pillar for social change. By hashtagging YesAllWomen, anyone could contribute his or her feelings or thoughts on misogyny, in order to open up a conversation surrounding the issue, thereby promoting feminism, and creating a social commentary about sexism towards women!
We can also use social media to reveal matters that are uncomfortable to some members of our society, therein, skewing the stigma so that they are no longer taboo. If you have ever heard of @NormalizeBreastfeeding’s Instagram
, they remind the world that there is nothing more natural, and beautiful than a woman breastfeeding her newborn. They post daily photos on social media of woman and their babies, normalizing the public with the act of breastfeeding, and proving that a breast, and a suckling baby is not an offensive image.
Where social media helps us accelerate social change, it also permits us to form support groups, where we can rely on, and encourage individuals from all of humanity to share their support through art, activity, or music.
Social media affords us education; we no longer peek at the world through a looking glass: instead we now gape it through floor-to-ceiling windows. With Snapchat’s, ‘Story’ feature, I was able to watch Indian and Nepalese people fly their kites for their Hindu festival of Makar Sankranti last January. Due to Facebook, I learned that my Israeli friend had finished with the IDF, and was now on her way to university.
Online networking is also a gold mine for businesses. A small business, or entrepreneur making an effort to change the industry can start a social media campaign using absolutely no money. They can promote their ethical, forward-thinking brand, reaching billions of people with just a hashtag, or an upload. In doing so they can provide environmental, political, and social standards for upcoming businesses to follow. It's putting the power back in the hands of the people and leveling the playing field with the corporate competition.
These are all illustrations of how social media is a gift, and most definitely not a curse. In O’Neill’s case, she has made a step in the right direction, vowing to use the online accounts that she still has active to promote topics she is enthusiastic about, like art, and veganism.
We can do the same—we need to conduct ourselves properly online so as to strengthen the muscle of social networking. This means being aware. Be aware of who you are following, what media you are ingesting, who you support, and, of course, what you post.
If you are impassioned about something, chances are your fervor will be contagious to others, to inspire them, arouse their minds, and spur them to worthwhile action. So share it. Just keep in mind, authentic connection and real life experience is the goal.
Share, send, tweet, snap, post and upload your passion!
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