It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves.
Sir Edmund Hillary
Relatively recent in geological terms social media platforms have become central to many people’s lives. Facebook launched in 2004 and went public in 2012 and has become the dominant social media with around 2.8 billion users. Twitter started in 2006 with a simple message by its co-founder, ‘just setting up my twitr’. Pinterest, an image-sharing site, launched in 2010 and Instagram, a photo, video-sharing, messaging and advertising application was also founded in 2010. Because of its popularity with millions of users it was acquired by Facebook in 2012. U-Tube launched in 2005. So, all created in this century which I find incredible considering how we have come to rely on them and accept their presence as part of our lives - as if they have always existed.
Social media allows us to communicate with family, friends and loved ones across the country, across the world. It informs us of events, both national and world-wide. For many during Lockdown and with ongoing Covid-19 restrictions on freedom of movement it has been a lifeline helping ease the pain of social isolation. People turned to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest to connect with others.
However social media can be a cause of concern and anxiety – teenage bullying by peers, trolls making abusive online comments on posts. Social influencers on Instagram can lead to young women feeing ashamed of their bodies. People may get depressed and panic-stricken scrolling through news feeds about Covid-19. For this reason, ‘Doomscrolling’ was voted ‘Word of the Year’ in 2020.
In allowing false information, ‘fake news’, to spread rapidly along with conspiracy theories, social media can be dangerous. Trump’s twitter posts shared by groups like Q-Anon led to the storming of the Capitol in January by a mob of Trump supporters. Media company, Twitter, took action citing its ‘rules’, and suspended Trump’s account for fear that further tweets could incite more violence.
But this too brings into question in a democratic country is it right that media companies, ‘Big Tech’ have this kind of authority and get to decide who can communicate? Shouldn’t this be a matter for the State?
Social Media can be helpful in allowing us to connect with others. It is a useful information tool. In my view it is not social media that is the problem, it is the way people have allowed it to infiltrate and dominate their lives. We have inadvertently allowed tech giants to take control.
Following reassessment of our priorities brought on by the pandemic it would be good if we could stop blaming social media and look at our own actions. We have only one life. Maybe we could limit the influence of technology. Maybe it is time to stop scrolling and ‘sharing’ and start living. In the words of Sir Edmund Hillary: ‘It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves’.
© Julie Kennedy, February 2021