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Social Media & Technology: a Boon or Bane?

In today’s world, we are increasingly dependent on technological devices to guide us. Technology has become so ingrained in our society - and daily lives - that it's hard to remember what the world was like before it. The human touch, literally and metaphorically, has metamorphosed into taps and 3D touches, drops and drags, swipes and such. Among these various kinds of technology, social media is perhaps the most prominent and well-known. Everywhere we go, it is common to see people typing away at their phones on apps like Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. But, it is this excessive dependence on social media and technology that is making us less human.

Social media plays an active role in starting and spreading the act of bullying. It has in fact, led to the emergence of a new type of bullying in the 21st century- cyberbullying. In simple terms, cyberbullying can be defined as the misuse of technology to embarrass, hurt or harass another individual, typically by sending threatening and harmful messages. Social media provides a platform for people to freely criticize and harass others without the fear of repercussions due to the anonymity that the Internet provides. Cyberbullies may feel less remorse or empathy when engaging in these behaviors because they can’t see the direct impact of their actions. Free and open access to the Internet also leads to more opportunities for bullies to find potential victims.

Facebook revealed the prevalence of bullying and harassment on its platform, claiming that such content was seen 14 to 15 times per 10,000 views on the site. Bullying and harassing content was seen between 5 and 6 times per 10,000 views on Instagram, according to the company. A whistleblower and former employee revealed documents which included research and debates about Instagram's influence on teen mental health, as well as whether Facebook's platforms promote divisions. The documents, according to the whistleblower, reveal that the corporation prioritized profits before user safety.

These unrestricted opportunities to use social media also help in spreading fake news, which has immensely contributed to bullying. All it takes is the click of a button to spread malevolent and untruthful rumors about someone and ruin their life. People do not give a second thought before sharing content on social media, while forgetting to verify the accuracy of the news. Humans thrive on gossip- the drama and shock that certain information can provide reigns over the validity and truthfulness of those statements. Removing information from the Internet is infinitely harder than uploading it. Even if the news is later on proven as false, it will still remain on social media for people to view.

People on these platforms also tend to show us the positive, luxurious and materialistic side of human life, masking anything that could be negative or regarded as a weakness. Dressing up in designer clothes, flying to exotic locations and promoting only certain body types and characteristics as desirable are examples of this. This is harmful as impressionable minds, especially those of children- who excessively make use of social media- get easily influenced. This leads to feelings of shame and inferiority which is not healthy for such young minds.

Recent research has shown that screen time is negatively associated with social skills development in toddlers. Specifically, the more time they spend with devices the more their social development suffers in the areas of relating and interacting with others and compliance with directions and ability to help others. Levels of disruptive social behaviors, such as being bossy or bullying, increased with more screen time activity. The concerns about social disconnection extend to older children and teens as well. As time spent on devices increases, time spent in-person with peers and adults decreases. This can lead to a sense of isolation and loneliness, with studies showing that teens who report the least in-person interaction and the most screen time have the highest rates of loneliness and depression.

Teenagers who are addicted to social media are more likely to engage in cyberbullying, as well as those who spend more time online. Participants in a study reported spending on average over seven hours online per day, and the reported average maximum hours spent online in one day was over 12 hours.

However, all is not lost. By responsibly and efficiently using social media platforms, we can turn the tables. Spreading awareness, posting appropriate content and taking stances against bullying are great ways to start. Rules and laws should be strictly imposed and it should be ensured that they are being followed. We must be alert and take action whenever we come across cyberbullying or any form of harassment. Schools and counsellors can also play a major role in educating and helping children and teenagers with social media addiction and avoiding behavior that resembles those of cyberbullies.

It is not a question of when and where we use social media, but how we use it.

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