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The Complex Problem of Social Media

The London Interdisciplinary School
23 December 2020
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3 mins read

In 2017, researchers coined the term “eco-anxiety” in response to the rise in severe anxiety related to our relationship with the environment. Issues surrounding big data, data protection and privacy may lead to a similar anxiety disorder evolving, and eventually being established, in the near future.

Our increasing use of social media, I believe, will pose a global issue, especially through its ability to spread large amounts of controlled information and misinformation. The way that social media outlets are utilised today means that every user has the ability to share what they want and follow who they want. But what happens when the posts and recommendations one views become more personalised and controlled? Social media platforms can be echo chambers (where we follow and receive only what we like, based on our previous activity) and work via filter bubbles (where anything that doesn’t match up with our own views are filtered out). This calls into question the ethics behind the data science of social media; should we really be using this data to, essentially, censor what people encounter online? Should social media platforms decide what we should and shouldn’t view? Will this cause a divide amongst online and real-life communities due to their differing views, the only views that they have been exposed to?

Step one of solving these problems is acknowledging them. As humans, we sometimes have the natural instinct to shut down new ideas and leave things as they are because “that’s life”. Although we are able to begin discussing them, calling out norms and questioning ethics, how will we be able to educate others? Even within friendship groups it is difficult to start these conversations and many people wish to be blind to them – these conversations should be a way to open minds to new perspectives and engage them, and not be something they are too scared to acknowledge. Perhaps by helping individuals question the norm, we can begin to discuss and implement solutions.

However, as with many complex problems, more arise: if we are able to generate more awareness amongst individuals, is there a possibility of making them too aware of the amount of control that we don’t really have, especially in the face of social media and in society? This hyper awareness could potentially lead to a more pessimistic and depressed generation, as individuals may feel exposed and vulnerable to the way that large social media platforms operate.

Solving the problems surrounding social media through individuals’ efforts is only one way of tackling this complex issue. By continuing to observe its effects, we can find solutions that take them into account, for example through law (data protection acts) and psychology (how people are affected and how we respond to these impacts). This topic opens up both benefits and challenges of social media. It is up to us to recognise what we have free will over and what we believe needs to be changed.

Haadiyah Cassam is a second year A-level student currently studying Art, Computer Science, French & Maths, and interested in working on issues surrounding technology and sustainability.

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