Two weeks ago, I discussed the downright daunting scale of social media’s influence in today’s society.
More than that I hoped to stress the human and, perhaps unsurprisingly, social aspects of these digital meeting grounds and the need to use them to make significant connections with one another. Heck, Pew Research says 66 percent of all Internet-using adults in the U.S. use some kind of social networking site, so the odds are definitely on the side of those looking for companionship.
“Wait,” you might exclaim. “How am I supposed to feel secure making connections with people online with the copious scammers and spammers trouncing all over my social media sites?”
I must admit, this is an extremely difficult fear to ease.
Many would think it better not to ease it. For instance, this year the FBI released a rather menacing-looking document titled “Internet Social Media Risks” that overviews the damage “dishonest characters” can do to us simply by exploiting our humanity and naivety; everything from identity theft and brand hijacking to harassment, spam and malware can befall us through nefarious methods like “spoofing” and “phreaking”.
Silly sounding, yes, but not without merit. The FBI also reports 300,000 reports of online crimes in 2011 alone (a 3.4 percent increase from the previous year).
Yet, a lot of these issues come from a collective error—communication online works inherently differently than communication in-person.
Though the methods used for deception online can be relatively complex, what needs to happen in order for us to move social media into a true social forum is to stop acting like our online interactions adhere to special rules that eliminate the basic template of human interaction. We need to trust and distrust our cyber comrades the same we would if they were literally sitting across the table from us.
That means coming to grips with our online identity being our true identity. This may be the hardest concept to wrap our heads around. After all, on Facebook or Twitter, we’re expected to only present the best of ourselves. We’re expected to bend our image to make ourselves attractive to the collective online consciousness.
But I ask; when we leave our homes every day, are we not attempting to present the best possible version of ourselves to the world at large? How is this considered a more “real” alternative to online social interaction?
Furthermore, in 2009 psychologist Sam Gosling of the University of Texas performed a study where he observed the Facebook pages of 236 college-aged persons from the United States and Germany. He compared these subjects’ behavior against a comprehensive questionnaire each filled out, and in turn asked the subjects to rate the profiles of fellow subjects they did not know personally.
Gosling found that, “online social networking profiles convey rather accurate images of profile owners,” and concluded, “online social networks… are instead just another medium for engaging in genuine social interactions, much like the telephone.”
In other words, it’s all right to be yourself because pretty much everyone else is.
Of course, it’s important to note that social media is generally a public forum. Just as it’s considered inappropriate—sometimes downright dangerous—to spew forth unkind rhetoric in a public place, so should one use caution with what is said on social media. In fact, just last Friday Twitter handed over records of three months worth of tweets to a judge overseeing the criminal case of Occupy protester Malcolm Harris.
“Wait,” you might exclaim, “All you’ve given me is a whole bunch of new, conflicting ideals and now I’m even less sure how I should feel about interacting with others through social media.”
To that I say that much as in real life, all we can do is be ourselves and judge the honesty of others through the same scope we’ve built up over years of living on this planet. Social media should not change the way we think about being social, but simply the way that we carry it out.