Published: 29 September 2017

Tips from a student: The dangers of social media

Mobile phone

In this article, a student explains the potential dangers and pitfalls of social media.

“Since the turn of the century, our lives have increasingly been lived online, with everything from our professional qualifications to what we ate for dinner 10 years ago viewable to an ever-expanding network of ‘friends’, ‘contacts’ or ‘followers’ in just a matter of a few clicks.”

Anonymity

“One of the biggest advantages and disadvantages of social media is the anonymity it affords those who use it. As Kang, Brown and Kiesler wrote: ‘Anonymity lifts inhibitions and can lead to unusual acts of kindness or generosity, or it can lead to misbehaviour, such as harsh or rude language and acts that are illegal or harmful. People use protection of anonymity to reduce the social risks of discussing unpopular opinions and taboo topics, and to create different personas online than they exhibit offline.’[1]

Trolling

“Abusive behaviour on social media has become an increasingly troubling facet of user’s experience on websites such as Facebook and Twitter. A major criticism that has been levelled at large organisations such as these has been the inability to protect users from abusive or ‘trolling’ behaviour from anonymous accounts. One particularly flagrant example in the case of Luciana Berger, a Liverpool MP who was subjected to systematic anti-Semitic abuse on an enormous scale.

“Many have called for these organisations to implement stricter rules on who can open an account or for a stricter vetting process requiring, for instance, forcing people to use their real names or sign up with a credit card[2] as a means to prevent anonymous trolling.

“However, while anonymity can so often be used to negative effect it is also an essential tool for whistle-blowers or journalists, and as such there would be significant opposition to such measures being taken. In addition to this, some of the most dangerous and damaging abuse carried out online can be carried out, not by anonymous figures, but friends and family – most notably in the rise of ‘revenge pornography’.”

Your data

“A less extreme, but all the same challenging problem is the potential long-term impact from information stored online from school or university age on platforms such as Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. According to research conducted by Ofcom, 91% of people between the ages of 16-24 use at least one form of social media on a weekly basis.[3] This means that a vast amount of information about young people is stored online from their formative years and this means that they face a new set of challenges as they move into the world of work.”

Impact on your employment

“According to reports anything from 33%[4] to 60%[5] of recruiters in the UK use social media vetting as part of their employment process. The current cohort of university students has likely spent half of their life on social media. They face a unique set of challenges as they enter the world of work with all their youth, adolescence and student years documented online for the world to see. The impact of early misdemeanours on their prospects is much costlier now than ever before, with foolish drunken errors or naïve comments holding people back in later life.”

Catfishing

“What can seem like a joke in the heat of the moment can have far reaching implications further down the line. Everyone is familiar with ‘catfishing’ – using other people’s personal information and photos to hoodwink people online, and feels sympathy for those on the receiving end.

“However, the person whose identity is stolen is often forgotten. Also an innocent party, they face the ignominy and reputational damage that can be done by the person stealing their identity. With no means of recourse, and sometimes unbeknownst to them, they can be tarred by the actions of another, often leaving them accused of being all manner of awful things from misogyny to racism and homophobia.”

The role of education

“While social media has brought about a number of significant advantages to young people, enabling people to be connected in an increasingly globalised world and allowing information to be shared and people to become better informed, it has also created a minefield, which many young people don’t realise exists until it is already too late. Clearly, steps should be taken to try and tackle these new online dangers. Schools should look at introducing a module on social media and how to avoid the obvious and lasting dangers that it presents.

“Additionally, Personal, Social, Health and Economic (PSHE) education must do more to teach young people about tolerance and relationships, and the appropriate way to behave towards other people, both on and offline. This should be introduced at the earliest possible stage and should be supplemented by much stronger practical advice to students of all ages about what to do when things go wrong and guidance on improving privacy settings.”

[1] https://www.cs.cmu.edu/~kiesler/publications/2013/why-people-seek-anonymity-internet-policy-design.pdf p. 2

[2] https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2013/jul/29/twitter-abuse-dealing-with-trolls-options

[3] https://www.ofcom.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0026/80828/2016-adults-media-use-and-attitudes.pdf p. 75

[4] http://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/one-third-of-employers-use-social-media-to-recruit-a6673541.html

[5]http://www.careerbuilder.co.uk/share/aboutus/pressreleasesdetail.aspx?sd=4%2F28%2F2016&id=pr945&ed=12%2F31%2F2016

 

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