Without a doubt, social media has changed the way that we live. People all over the world are more connected and have more potential to connect with others, making friends and colleagues all over the globe. News and currents events are able to travel at lightning speed around the city, nation and world community, making us all in touch as ever. But even so, there is a dark side to social media, one which must not be ignored. For all the wealth of information that's out there, there's a ton of information which is trite, repetitive or useless. Part of the battle of social media is the need to weed through all the worthless information that's out there, in order to get to the information which is important or necessary. This is one of the milder drawbacks of social media. Social media at its most negative can harm relationships and magnify the bad behavior of certain people, making it seem worse than it is. Social media can also cause harm to relationships, by making people more likely to engage in bad behavior and make them more likely to act insensitively and more unemotional to one another.
One extreme example of the negative potential of social media is that it can escalate tensions between two people, leading to ultimate physical fighting that might have otherwise been avoided. A story that appeared in the news described how one teen in Buffalo (Nieves) ran over another teen with her SUV as the result of a fight that started over twitter (Gee, 2013). Thus, social media has created a platform where teens can be cruel to one another in a manner which they find acceptable and which has a wide audience. As one journalist illuminates, "Teenagers have been mean and vicious for as long as there have been bullies and cliques. What social media has done is to magnify bad behavior. Teenage angst and cruelty are now on display, with distorted proportions and deceptive permanence. Fights that once might have dissipated before escalating now live online forever" (Gee, 2013). In this case, twitter created an open venue where the tension and negativity between these two parties was able to escalate, gaining steam from the attention that it garnered online, until it exploded, and in this case exploded in tragedy. Gee is correct that teenagers have always been cruel to one another, but it has never before been spotlighted and so permanent and accessible to such a wide audience. For negative people, this just encourages and enhances the potential to be negative to one another.
Social media has a serious potential for hurting relationships, and this potential damage needs to be anticipated and prevented. For example, one thing that social media does do is it makes people more accessible: this has the potential for great good, but it also has the potential for damage or drama upon current relationships. Former partners can easily reach out to you, which might be tempting to engage in, sending notes and pictures; this type of interaction will only distract and put distance between the members of a current relationship (Kaiser, 2012). Furthermore, the misuse of social media has the potential to do damage to a current relationship as well: "In the heat of an angry moment, it's tempting to vent online. But does the world really need to know that he forgot your birthday or she talked your head off during the big game? Be smart about what you post for public consumption" (Kaiser, 2012). This is particularly important, because often people forget that the things they post on social media is actually rather permanent: whatever is posted, tweeted or emailed is thus permanently recorded, even if the messages are deleted and the account is closed and the hard drive is wiped empty (Kaiser, 2012). This means that anything which is said over social media thus becomes a permanent fixture of public record and can come under scrutiny at any time. This fact alone has the potential to cause drama for many people in relationships. For instance, when one member of a relationship breaks up with his or her significant other and then posts to social media about how happy he or she is to be single again, this can essentially annihilate all possible chances of reconciliation. Thus, what might have been just a break to reevaluate the relationship thus becomes a permanent split, and a split which is characterized by strong feelings of ill-will on both sides.
Another damaging aspect of social media is that it can impact people in a negative fashion, by spreading negative influences, such as encouraging substance abuse or extreme dieting. It is all too obvious the manner in which social activities are promoted and given attention to on sites like Facebook. However, with young people, this can too readily be attached to an unrealistic level of alcohol abuse. For instance, "the portrayal of oneself as a drinker, especially as one able to consume significant amounts of alcohol, is considered by many young people to be a socially desirable component of one's identity." Long story short, social media is yet another way to make booze look cool" (Sass, 2013). This can create truly unrealistic and unhealthy expectations of young people about how much is safe to drink and how much is expected of them when it comes to drinking. This can create a state of rampant imbalance and lay groundwork for alcohol addiction and abuse. These negative and skewed expectations and presentations of alcohol get tossed around social media sites like an epidemic, setting the stage for more imbalance and abuse.
So much about social media is connected to ideas and imagery. This means that negative ideas, particularly ones which reinforce destructive imagery connected to body standards are able to spread rampantly throughout social media. The media at large already has a problem with the manner in which they present bodies and standards of thinness, highlight skinny models and actresses over others. Social media just increases the community of unhealthy body standards. "Research has shown that eating disorders can be transmitted 'like a virus' through social networks, whilst pro-anorexic websites provide tips, advice and an online community for unhealthy weight management…Facebook users have been shown to have increased the levels of self-consciousness about body image and weight, the implications of which could be profound as the social network has just announced that it now has 1 billion users.
That's a lot of self-conscious people" (York, 2013).
Social media also no doubt has a strongly addictive quality to it, leading towards change in people, and potentially causing a sense of isolation among people. This is something that people witness during social situations all the time; it's quite common to see people at a bar or party in a small cluster, ignoring one another and engaging only with their phones, looking at various social media sites. It's also common in social situations for people to take more stock in how many "likes" a given posting receives on Facebook, rather than the reactions and opinions that other people have to it in real life.
Finally, ordinary citizens don't often see the havoc that these forms of social media can wreak on people's lives: Jennifer Lawrence is a young successful, Oscar winning actress refuses to have a Twitter account. Even though she doesn't have an account, she's constantly impacted by what people say about her on twitter. "God I wonder what Twitter is going to say now? I'm not even on Twitter and I'm so worried about it" (Maas, 2013). Another actress, Kristen Stewart, mostly known for her role in the Twilight movies, describes how social media ruins her privacy. "Twitter f***s me over every day of my life. Because people…