The rise in the use of social media and the internet in general, has grown rapidly in the past few years with the average daily internet usage rising from 126 minutes a day in 2016 to 135 minutes a day in 2017. Obviously the internet is a huge dominance in our world today but the question has always remained, is this a good or bad thing?
Social media is undeniably the centre of our lives. To name a few ways we use it, it’s how we keep track of news around the world, promote businesses small and large to gain more followers, and keep in touch with long-distance friends or relatives. The progress in technology have allowed us to better our lives in these ways and one of the main positive impacts social media has had, is helping us become more aware of politics in our own country. This is especially great for the younger generation, allowing for more involvement. It has also been suggested, although studies cannot prove it, that there has been a rise in votes from people aged 18-24. Though this may not be solely down to social media, there is a good chance that it’s played a role in getting people involved.
The development in young people using their right to vote means we are making our own decisions and becoming a more independent generation. We have our own opinions on controversial topics like race, gender and feminism because we have access to different viewpoints. We can listen to other people’s stories and experiences of these issues and decide how we feel about them and where we stand. I can’t see this as a negative because it’s great to see young people, myself included, leaving our ignorant bubbles and finally entering the real world.
Still, there is the question of social media’s negative impact on the younger generation. I think we can all admit that we are addicted to checking each of our social media accounts regularly throughout the day, whether it be to see how many likes we got on a status on Facebook or a picture on Instagram, or how many people saw our story on Snapchat. If it’s not to check our popularity, it’s to check who has messaged us on these three platforms as well. This may sound familiar to a lot of you and you may remember the feeling of joy when you had a lot of likes or a lot of messages. But do you remember how it feels when you don’t get any messages or likes on a photo you value? We get insecure, sometimes delete the post/story to avoid what has been named ‘social suicide’. We see other people getting more likes and views and cannot help but compare ourselves to them, perhaps thinking, ‘they are better than me; prettier, funnier, have a better life than me’.
This is just the start of it, you have these thoughts and then have them confirmed by other users of social media: cyber bullies. The problem with cyber bullying means there is no escape from it because social media is everywhere. Yes, you could get rid of social media and take yourself away from the situation that is causing you to be upset, but why should you have to? A story that caught a lot of attention for this in the UK was from 17-year-old Felix Alexander who hanged himself after years of cyber bullying. The story even caught Prince Williams’ attention who has since been working with different social media platforms to prevent cyber bullying from happening so often. The fact that high-profile figures are trying to prevent this speaks volumes about the negative impact social media has had on younger people.
We are taught from such a young age now that we aren’t perfect or beautiful the way we are. We need make-up to hide the flaws or hair straighteners to smarten us up. We have to be a certain weight to be deemed attractive. If we aren’t that certain weight or we don’t cover up those flaws, we criticise ourselves; pick at our reflection in the mirror until we can never be self-confident and destroy what little self-confidence we did have with self-loathing.
The main culprit: media and magazines. They show the skinniest models wearing that skirt we really want or the most airbrushed model advertising the same make up we wear, but somehow they look flawless while you can still see the spot on your chin underneath all that make-up. It would be great if it was easy to be kind and compliment yourself, but then don’t you just feel really vain when you do?
Social media and users of social media should be encouraging others to be kind to themselves, but at the moment only a minority of people use it this way.
It is getting there slowly. Social media is becoming a platform for people to voice their opinions on topics such as self-image and perfection stereotypes. The public is influencing companies to use more realistic models and women and men of all shapes and sizes. Missguided has recently launched their ‘Make Your Mark’ campaign to promote and encourage body positivity — something we need to see more fashion companies do. They expanded on this campaign and stopped airbrushing ‘flaws’ off their models and we have seen more and more models proudly flaunting their stretch marks while advertising Missguided clothing.
There are things being done to prevent the negative effects of social media and keep it a positive space for people to share their stories and stay in touch with friends. As we are more aware of politics, we are also more aware of mental health issues and of people being different from us and having different opinions to ours; all of which really does prepare us for the world outside social media.
So, it’s up to you to decide really; will social media be a tool for preparing us for the outside world, or make that world an even scarier place to be?