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Talk it Out: Is social media necessary?

February 19, 2020

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Social media is a necessary evil

For all its shortcomings, social media is a vital tool in academia.

Much has been made of the negative impacts social media has on society. Lowered self-esteem, concerning addictive tendencies and an overwhelming dependence covers just a few of those negative impacts.

Between the valid concerns about security, scams, misinformation and impacts on mental well-being, it is easy to come to the conclusion that in order to live better lives, we should all delete our social media accounts and live Twitter, Instagram and Facebook free lives.

Sometimes, though, it is just not that easy.

Using social networks, like Facebook, can help researchers network with each other and potential research institutions. They can also connect potential graduate students with labs and investigators. At conferences, meeting new people often ends with ‘find me on Facebook!’ All in all, it can be hard to navigate if you do not use Facebook or other social media sites.

Social media can often be one of the most important tools for science communication. Many researchers share findings, publications, fun facts and answers to questions from the general public using social media.

Some even use platforms like Twitter to start fun science-based challenges, like naturalist Jason Ward’s weekly #TrickyBirdID or herpetologist Earyn McGee’s #FindThatLizard. These efforts not only get other researchers in the same field involved but allow non-scientists interested in the field involved in fun ways to hone their skills, helped by experts.

Of course, all good comes with some bad. The anonymity of many social media accounts allows for some trolls with nothing better than to harass researchers who communicate with the public on social media platforms, especially those who work on controversial socio-scientific issues.

Katherine Hayhoe, an outspoken climate scientist at Texas Tech University, frequently experiences harassment both through social media accounts and through email.

Researchers who dedicate time on social media to debunking misinformation in their field are often inundated with hatred from trolls and bots, which comb the internet for mentions of specific topics such as climate change and vaccination.

This risk is especially present of female researchers and researchers of color. Already facing discrimination and hate in the workplace, these researchers find it difficult to escape criticism online.

However, social media has also allowed marginalized researchers to band together against bullies and share information about staying safe at conferences and in their workplaces. Researchers are at least able to set their own limits and boundaries on social media, where they can block and report the users that attack them online.

Social media has its drawbacks, of course—any place in which people feel free to share their opinions with no fear of repercussions will. However, it lets researchers connect with each other and with the public in ways that would otherwise not be possible.

If you are pursuing a career in academia, maybe think twice about deactivating those accounts.

– Toni Mac Crossan is a biology graduate student

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Social media is not essential

Quitting social media has the ability to better relationships, productivity and overall happiness. Students should strongly consider taking a hiatus from their social world to improve their mental and physical well-being.

Social media is inherently a way to stay connected with the world, yet it can easily go from an innovative form of instant communication, to the exchange of toxic messages about others and ourselves.

Social media began with the idea of sharing news and communication. The first social media platform, Six Degrees, was only for creating profiles and connecting with others. Today, the social phenomenon is no longer used simply for encouragement, accomplishments and celebratory announcements

Social platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are literally based off a like and comment algorithm. Popular posts receive more attention and people validate themselves from the social reach they manage to achieve. The addictive feeling of being noticed and heard easily manipulates users and promotes an unhealthy mindset.

A prominent drawback with the current use of social media is that it succumbs to the idea that the social persona society gives off is anything near the reality of who they are and that causes people to feel disconnected when they start comparing themselves.

Physician, author and clinical writer in the mental health realm, Kristen Fuller said, “social media is a tiny sliver of reality, the best of the best days and in a way, a falsified image that we want to portray to others.”

Next time Facebook notifies of a friends birthday, pick up the phone and call instead of making a post onto their wall. People too often forget that although they can stay connected online, they also can stay connected in real life.

It is critical for society to be aware of the positive impacts of participating in a social media detox. The world will not end if people take breaks from social media.

While it is obvious that social media is not going anywhere anytime soon, that does not mean it is essential to leading a fulfilled life. Jean Twenge, a professor of psychology at San Diego University, states social media overload may have more detrimental impacts on teens and adolescents.

In fact, an Oxford academic study examined the link between Facebook use and an individual’s well being and found that the more the social platform is consumed the more prone the individual is to “negative physical health, negative mental health and negative life satisfaction.”

College students, especially, should take a step in the right direction and delete an app or two that they notice or feel they could not live without. The social world will still be there in a week.

Social media changed the world, but society existed before it and it will exist after it.

– Haley Schmidt is an English senior

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