Series: The good and bad of social media

By Paige Boehlert and Jocelyn Cannon

Part 1: The Bad Angles 

Rick Collins was boogie boarding at a beach in Hawaii with his kids and wife for a few hours and the whole time they were out enjoying the waves, there was a group of teenage girls on the beach having what looked like a social media photoshoot.

“It was sad I was just thinking, ‘Go do something’ because it was this shot, that shot and there’s more to life than taking a picture of yourself…I just think the pressures are immense on young people through social media,” said Collins.

Social Manipulation

It is not just a distraction from the real world that impacts teens. Distorted, manipulated, or fake news targets teenagers and younger people who are still developing opinions about the world. 

Most Americans believe that fake news is a serious problem. Facebook has been blamed for spreading fake news, but it has more to do with users and manipulators taking advantage of the platform.

So farthis year, Facebook has shut down 5.4 billion fake accounts on its main platform. That’s compared to roughly 3.3 billion fake accounts removed in all of 2018. Many still remain. 

Kayhi Librarian, Catlin Jacobson said there is a troubling amount of fake news on social media and a huge amount of the information you are given is fake or one-sided.

“There are different types of fake, there is unintentional misleading information, intentionally fake people trying to persuade people into wrong information as opposed to forwarding something and not realizing it’s fake,” said Jacobson. “Teenagers might not be as inclined to look outside your own circle and adults are the same way, its equally troubling no matter your age but when you are still forming your ideas about the world around you it’s a dangerous time for you to be forming thoughts and opinions when so much of what you see is not true.” 

Many adults didn’t grow up being on social media like kids do these days so it’s hard to fully appreciate the pull of social media. Journalism teacher Jeff Lund said he doesn’t understand what it’s like for high schoolers but does understand the addiction on some level.

“It’s really difficult because I went through high school without social media so I don’t know what it’s like to be a teenager and have social media,” said Lund. “In college, I was addicted to playing snake on my Nokia.” 

Lund said it was a Nokia 3310, to a teenager today it looks more like a calculator that you would borrow from Pader’s class than today’s smartphone. 

The PEW Research Center found that 81% of teens feel more connected to their friends from social media. However, teens depression rates still continue to rise. 

Collins is one out of 112 million people in the U.S with an Instagram account and said he thinks the political side of social media is getting out of control with all the fake news spreading and out there.

“My personal belief is that social media is kind of destroying our country on the political side of things,” said Collins. “There’s tons of fake news out there and a lot of people that fall into that trap.” 

Collins said the Netflix documentary The Social Dilemmaaffected him as a father and teacher. The documentary is a series of interviews by social media engineers and former CEOs of big social media platforms discussing the problems and manipulation of social media on a large scale and the impact it is making on people’s lives. 

“My oldest was right in the teeth of it, I feel like the longer this goes on the better-equipped parents are to deal with it,” said Collins. “I would see emotional highs and lows and not know what’s going on and it’s that online world you’re not really aware of. It’s heartbreaking as a parent to watch your kid stress over exchanges online.” 

According to an article on Media Literacy Now, children ages 8 to 18 now spend an average of 7 hours and 38 minutes per day with entertainment media outside of school. The reality is so many teens are addicted to social media and their devices. 

 “If you can have a product that you can get your customers addicted to it’s like a golden ticket,” Collins said. 

 Founding father of Virtual Reality Computer Scientist, Jaron Lainer said in The Social Dilemma the younger generation does not know the real meaning of communication.

“We’ve created a world in which online connection has become primary,” Lainer said. “Especially for younger generations. And yet, in that world, anytime two people connect, the only way it’s financed is through a sneaky third person who’s paying to manipulate those two people. So we’ve created an entire global generation of people who were raised within a context with the very meaning of communication, the very meaning of culture, is manipulation.”

Having our phones always at our fingertips with all our friends on it and social media to entertain us 24/7 has taught us that we can use it almost as a crutch in uncomfortable social situations. This is causing problems with younger generations because instead of interacting with other humans we are left to our devices. 

Former designer ethicist at Google Tristan Harris said that we are destroying the younger generation’s ability to self soothe and teaching them to depend on technology to make them feel better.

“We’re training and conditioning a whole new generation of people that when we are uncomfortable or lonely or uncertain or afraid, we have a digital pacifier for ourselves. That is kind of atrophying our own ability to deal with that.” 

Part 2: The Good Angles of Social Media

 Who you follow on social media can really impact your day or the way you look at things. If you follow negative people, it’s going to color your day negatively and make you think more negatively. But if you follow positive influencers on social media it’s going to impact you in a positive way and brighten your day.

Connecting to positivity

Instagram can be inspirational or a waste of time depending on who you choose to follow. Junior Hayley Gilson said she only follows positive influencers because she tries to live a happy healthy lifestyle.

“I try to keep my mind as clear as possible and keep myself as true as I can, I have narrowed my followers in the past year to get rid of anything I felt that was bringing me down. Being a teen girl in society I need to have a stable platform that I can wake up to and make myself feel better with, not tear myself down,” said Gilson. “The only people I follow are either in my community, inspiring athletes and sports content such as Sarah Hildebrandt, Jen Schroeder, Flosports, and pages like @motivation on Instagram are great examples of positive influencers. A lot of people’s platforms are too caught up with the drama in the world and people who make you ‘not want to eat.’ You only have one life and I’d much rather spend mine bringing people up and showing others all of the good things in life, like sports and sunsets.”

Connecting to readers and clients

Even though Lund didn’t grow up on social media, he is a user, but for slightly different purposes. Lund said social media is a great way to promote businesses and that business owners would be crazy not to use free accounts to reach potential buyers, or in his case, readers. Lund said that newspapers use heat maps to see which articles are getting the most hits and he wants his Juneau Empire columns to get as much attention as possible to prove his value. 

“If I don’t use social media to promote my column I’m an idiot, I have to, but at the same time I don’t want to be so attached to social media that I’m using it to promote my article but also as an excuse to get totally distracted,” said Lund. 

Collins said he uses social media to market his business but isn’t very good at it. 

“As far as marketing the business people love to see those fish so I try to get customer shots of the fish as much as I can,” said Collins. “I’m not super great at that sort of marketing but I just try to keep a little bit going and create an interest and a buzz.” 

Collins said it is very important to not take a political stance so he stays away from that.

“From a business standpoint I think it’s really not smart to take a political stance, but if I’m strongly one way or the other I could potentially be alienating my customers who thought and or believed differently,” said Collins. “From a business standpoint you have more risk, and it’s unfortunate the people would boycott your business just because of your political view but that’s just the reality of the situation. So I steer well away from anything controversial on social media for that reason.”

Part 3: Balancing Social Media with your Life

Social media is not going away but there are ways to work to turn it more positive and beneficial and steer away from the negative aspects of it.

An article by the New York Times written by Sree Sreenivasan said an estimated 81 percent of Americans have a social media account. A number that is sure to grow. 

Whether you have your social media habits under control or not, the reality is social media is now a critical part of the way people communicate and a key part of how work gets done. The article said people’s biggest struggle is knowing when to separate your personal life and your professional one on social media.

“The fact is that it’s impossible to separate the personal use of social media from the professional, and everything you say online can and will be used against you,” said Sreenivasan.

Cutting back

Social media is beneficial in many ways so quitting it isn’t necessarily the solution. An average smartphone owner checks their device 47 times per day, and 85% of users do this even while talking to their friends and family.If your social media habits are negative you should consider the following tips for decreasing your social media:

  • Delete the apps from your phone
  • Turn off your phone during work or school
  • Make a certain amount of time for your social media time
  • Leave your devices out of your bedroom

Justin Rosenstein, the former engineer at Facebook and Google, said that turning off your notifications and getting rid of non-useful apps helped him resist the urge to go on his phone.

“I’ve uninstalled a ton of apps from my phone that I felt were wasting my time,
said Rosenstein in an interview in The Social Dilemma. “All the social media apps, all the news apps and I’ve turned off notifications on anything that was vibrating my leg with information that wasn’t timely and important to me right now. It’s for the same reason that I don’t keep cookies in my pocket.”

An article by Mindwise Organizations says users need to maintain a healthy balance between social media and time without it.

“As with most things, balance is the key to having healthy habits on social media. You can set aside time when you can surf the web, and times when you log off and ignore notifications.” 

When using social media it’s important to use other people’s posts as inspiration instead of comparing yourself to others, this can turn into an unhealthy habit and lower your self-esteem. Think before you post. Ask yourself what kind of message you’re trying to send.

“Before you hit send on a post, consider whether it’s spreading positivity. You can help make your feed an encouraging place to be by avoiding trolls or online arguments and fostering a community of support and positivity among your friends or followers,” said Midwise Organizations. 

Most importantly put your mental health first. It’s important to know when to step away and take a break. 

Build a positive profile 

Social media addiction is a more common issue than anyone likes to admit.

Gilson said by stepping away from social media more she is creating a healthier lifestyle.  

Gilson won girls state wrestling as a sophomore, she follows popular girl wrestlers. 

She follows positive influencers like Jen Schroeder and Sarah Hildebrandt,  

Sarah Hildebrandt won a gold medal at the 2019 Pan American Games and a silver medal at the 2018 world championships.

“With the rates of depression in mental health for teens being super high, I have learned to control my social media habits to keep a healthy relationship with myself,” said Gilson. “Over the course of the past year, I have begun to change myself in such a better way by normalizing doing activities on my own.”

Gilson said she tries to make her social media feed as positive as possible to help with a good mindset.

“I try to make my social media platform as positive as possible a lot of teens are so focused on the negative influences even if they say they aren’t. I am guilty of this for sure too but I work on bettering myself and controlling my emotions with the addictive thing called social media.” 

Former designer ethicist at Google Tristan Harris said Google services compel people to check their email and smartphone notifications, but that doesn’t mean everyone is doomed.

 “Change like this can only happen top-down, from large institutions that define the standards for millions of people,” Harris said. “And we’re in a great position to do something about all this.

Here is a list of positive social media influencers:

English Teacher Jeff Lund

“They are positive influencers and remind me to be a producer, not just a consumer.”

1. @jayferruggia – Fitness expert

2. @danny_lehr – Entrepreneur

4. @jamesclear – Author and entrepreneur

Maritime Teacher Rick Collins

Rick Collins follows travel pages as a guide for his own personal business.

  1. @Powhub – Powder skiing page  
  2. @Epictravels – Travel page 
  3. @incomesimple – Financial and healthy lifestyle page 

Librarian Catlian Jacobson

  1. @JasonReynolds83 – Jason Reynolds, author of children’s and teen literature, and a powerful and inspirational speaker. I’ve heard him speak a few times at my library conferences. He tweets on issues of children’s and teen lit, Black writing, and social justice.
  2. @Lin_Manuel – Lin-Manuel Miranda, writer of Hamilton, and other Broadway wonders. He tweets uplifting and inspirational thoughts, plus current issues. 
  3. Shannon McClintock Miller, a fellow librarian from the Midwest, is a rock star school librarian. She presents at national conferences and workshops, and always shares wisdom and ideas on school librarianship. 

English Teacher Sarah Campbell

  1. Dalai Lama Center for Peace and Education” –they have inspiration and thoughtful quotes and they also share strategies I can use in the classroom to help my students to develop peace within themselves.  
  2. Cute cat videos always pop up on my feed! They make me laugh and I feel happy seeing the cute kitties! 
  3. I also follow a group of AP Literature teachers.  We share ideas for how to teach literature as well as offer support to one other as we learn how to teach during a pandemic.

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