How social media can ruin lives (and save them)

In a world where social media is ever present, people can often see just what they want. While it is good to remain positive, we should also recognise how social media can ruin lives, so that we can make it a better place

It goes without saying that social media was created as a way to connect with loved ones and new people alike to stay in touch, share stories and feel more connected to the people in your life and the world around you. Such a noble cause has plenty of merits, but with so many things created with the best of intentions, it can have dire consequences.
This is not a write-up about how bad social media is for you ““ I myself use it many times a day ““ and we have seen the many positive effects, like giving people a voice that never had one (the Arab Spring comes to mind). These are my genuine thoughts about what the things are we need to improve about social media, as I still firmly believe it is an extremely powerful tool that we must harness to its full potential.
While the science behind social media is still not as well understood as many would want us to believe, what we do know is that it can be misused and manipulated into something it was never supposed to be. Let‘s put people just generally being trolls to the side and look at some of the tangent unforeseen consequences we need to attend to sooner rather than later, because social media is here to stay.
Paradoxically, social media makes many people (especially millennials and the generation thereafter) extremely anti-social. This award-winning short film encapsulates this idea beautifully without needing to use the spoken word.

How many times do you see people in a restaurant sitting 3 feet from one another and yet there is no conversation as a result of the smartphone glued to their palms. Incessant checking of social feeds and hunting that next high of sharing a funny tweet or posting the best picture has numbed many people to the experiences around them.
Luckily, the generation causing the problem will most likely also be the one to fix it. This short film summarises this thought majestically (and you‘ve probably seen it). The final line of the impressive free rhyming being: “œStop watching this video, live life the real way.“

Locally we have also seen its negative effects recently (and ‘social media can ruin lives’ has trended multiple times). The most prominent examples are all of the racism scandals that have rocked South African social media in the last 6 months or so. Not only were people being racist on an open platform ““ which is deplorable regardless of being open to the world to see ““ but the negative side of social media came to the fore by jumping onto the bandwagon and making many others guilty by association, and sensationalism took over. This then called into question what freedom of speech is versus plain racism, which completely missed the point and was blown out of proportion, in my honest opinion. We spoke about Gareth Cliff‘s trials and tribulations on Cliff Central in a recent episode of our podcast.

Then of course comes the issue of online bullying, which is somewhat addressed above, but it is a different issue altogether when we‘ve seen how it happens in schools and among young people. This is one of the most prominent examples of how social media can ruin lives, and sometimes even lead to lives being lost.
But as I stated before, I don‘t mean to berate social media. We just need to be honest about where the technology and platforms have come to, and the fact that many can now see and identify these issues means we‘re heading in the right direction.
Social media can deliver so much more for society, and is in many cases already doing so, in the form of speedy communication, education and being in touch with the world, building relationships, finding common ground and sharing opinions, and allowing more people to have empathy with others around them and the world. Yes, social media can ruin lives, but it can also make yours better.
Social media and the internet as a whole is a place where we should all feel welcome and free to explore, and I believe we will get there. Society will start understanding what it means for the greater good as opposed to their selfish agendas.
I believe social media will fulfil its potential in making the world a better place in the not too distant future, because of people like you and me seeing what the problems are. And to be honest, one of the initial intentions of social media was to be fun and interesting, so I will leave you with these ““ a sister believing it‘s the zombie apocalypse after general anaesthetics and an Adele parody:

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