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A Double-Edged Sword

February 15, 2011

Social Media: The Potential for Good…

Social media is a terrific tool, full of possibilities for richer communication, connection, and other positive forces. For example, social media is credited with having a significant “compounding effect” on the recent Egyptian revolution.

And a recent poll by Harris Interactive found that:

  • 40% of American adults say they have gotten a good suggestion for something to try via social media;
  • another 15% have made a connection regarding a new job opportunity; and
  • 9% have gotten a lead on a new apartment or house.

double-edged swords cut both waysYet this same study also found that 43% of American social media users say they have “been offended by posts, comments, or pictures” they have seen on social networking sites.

That probably doesn’t surprise you in the least. Like most things in the world, despite all its possibilities for good, social media is fraught with potential for misuse and abuse too. It can, as they say, cut both ways.

…And the Potential for Evil

Case in point: not too long ago, the New York Times published an excellent piece, Parents Struggle with Cyberbullying, which explains how social media and text messaging have enabled old-fashioned schoolyard bullying to escalate to levels never before seen: “a dark, vicious side of adolescence” that was always there, but now “enabled and magnified by technology.”

Worsening the problem is the fact that many parents are bewildered by the many different social networking platforms and the proliferation of mobile devices and smartphones. Many are finding that they “have to be much more techno-savvy than they want to be,” the article points out, simply to keep up with the dangers their children face online — dangers that come not just from creepy predators, but now even from the unkindness of friends and acquaintances.

The article notes that the meaning of the word “friends” has changed. Now, “friends” can type cruel things about your child on public websites or send your kid harassing text messages late at night, saying things that they would never say to your child’s face. The anonymity of the Web makes it easier for culprits to hide.

Social media has been found to have both positive and negative effects in the higher ed setting, too; that’s why colleges and universities are now examining how to draft official student social media policies.

In Summary: With Great Power, Comes Great Responsibility…

That famous quote from Spiderman seeps appropriate here. Simply put, when using social networking sites (or when allowing your child(ren) to do so), keep both eyes open. Clearly state the expected positive behavior: “be respectful, be careful, be responsible, and be accountable!”

One Comment leave one →
  1. mcswainstarrett permalink*
    March 22, 2011 7:05 pm

    Another new development in cyber-bullying:

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