Has Social Networking Become an Epidemic?

In the past decade, social networking websites have exploded onto the scene. First Myspace, then Facebook, and now Twitter, each one increasingly important to how we interact with one another.

The sad reality is that online interactions are becoming even more common than face- to- face conversations. The important thing to ask yourself is whether these changes are for the better.

The answer: Absolutely not.

The repercussions of an electronically-centered social life are obvious. Finding new friends has become easy, and without ever having to meet them. Discussion forums can turn individuals into nameless “users,” each one as anonymous and empowered as the next.

In short, friends you will never meet and arguments you have no place being in are just a few mouse clicks away.

“Texting, Facebook, Twitter, etc. have provided a way to stay connected in a more efficient manner, but at what cost? While we are exercising our social media muscles, our face to face social interaction muscles just might be losing strength. It is about balance…we need to exercise both muscles,” Dr. Daniel Logan said. Logan is psychology professor at Liberty University.

The main “evil” of these social sites is not the time you spend on them. The anonymity is the true danger. The internet tends to turn a unique and independent individual into just another user.

Even worse than becoming just another default picture on a forum is a person’s ability to take on the identity of someone they are not.

An extreme example of this is the case of Megan Meier, the 13-year-old Missouri girl who committed suicide after being dumped and harassed by a boy she met on Myspace. Her parents later discovered that her “boyfriend” was, in fact, a local mom who wanted to know what Meier thought of her daughter.

“Cyber-bullying” has become all too common in the last few years. Ask the parents of Holly Grogan, or Kameron Jacobsen, or Tom Mullaney — three teenagers, all of whose suicides were linked to bullying via Facebook — and they will tell you that even Facebook keeps skeletons in its closet.

“(People) are not protected from cyberbullying, even when they are in their own bedrooms. It is 24/7, (people) saying things to one another online that are really hurtful, and that they would never say to one another face to face,” Susan Schenberg said. Schenberg is a member of the Missouri State Committee for Legislative Issues in a ChicagoTribune.com article.

Even worse are the innumerable anonymous bloggers and forum posters who are given every right to say whatever they want without consequence. On those sites, the worst that can happen to them is that a comment can be removed — a virtual slap on the wrist.

“Consequences for our actions are what cause us to pause and think about our actions in the first place. Would the anonymous commenter with negative things to say be willing to say them to the targeted person face to face? Hmm…consequences. The fact that the commenter was anonymous in the first place would suggest that he/she had thought about the consequences,” Logan said.

There are researchers in areas besides psychology who have seen the growing trend of interactions via the internet, and are growing concerned. Researcher Nicholas Carr, who was inspired to use the topic of social networking in his book, “The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains.”

“Researchers say that we need to be quiet and attentive if we want to tap into our deeper emotions, Carr said in a NYTimes.com article. If we are constantly interrupted and distracted, we kind of short-circuit our empathy. If you dampen empathy and you encourage the immediate expression of whatever is in your mind, you get a lot of nastiness that would not have occurred before.”

So is it really that shocking to hear that perhaps we have begun to put a little too much into our online social interactions? Is it any surprise that the value of a human is so skewed when each of us has begun to slowly devalue our own individuality?

The answer, I hope, is obvious.

One comment

  • Is it at all possible to regulate or enforce some sort of legal age for Facebook, etc? I use FB to catch up with friends in other locations and other countries; I also use it to witness to many people who are lost. I couldn’t reach these people without it. BUT the bullying has to stop. I guess they’d have to go to a paid system? Sad.

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