Is Social Media Worth The Risk?

April McBride, Staff Writer

Social media can be a powerful tool for humanity. It uses its reach to connect a starving family to donations, to organize protests, unionized workplaces and to share ideas that may have taken years to solidify otherwise. Its systems and algorithms could be the difference between who you are and seeing into who you could be. Those very same technological masteries are the most potent tool for corporate greed, civilian surveillance and have pushed us full speed into the dirty concrete wall of late-stage capitalism. 

It’s a delicate tiptoe that will define a generation of people, guinea pigs to the few hundred white Silicon Valley tech bros. When the global pandemic hit in March 2020, I stayed up all night watching numbers grow and grow. After a bloody May 2020, I didn’t sleep for days to protest, while rewinding a viral hit tweet of the state murdering and terrorizing kids in my city.  

It selfishly became too much, so I deleted my apps and locked my phone away for a few days. Days to weeks and weeks to the entire summer of 2020. It is the most freeing experience to think your own thoughts, to shop based on a need rather than an ultra specific algorithm. It is a gift to your mental health and a small break from the constant consumption. The time to reflect, write, read and sit and understand a quickly changing world around you is vital to personal development. 

Though I do encourage leaving online spaces, the power of good that social media and technology have given us is still unprecedented. The wealth of services, education and support available online is nothing that any social program could have given. All a person needs to learn about history, graphic design, plumbing or even college applications is an internet connection. It can be a valuable tool to remove yourself from your geographic bubble, being more open minded and exposed overall. This space also lends itself as a perfect way to connect people with social issues. During the BLM marches of the summer, the majority of protests were started through social media. In Roswell, the news of protests spread mostly through social media, specifically through the IG account ‘@GAfight2020‘. It is a platform created to connect protestors to organize events in Georgia. The moderator of this account said, “digital organizing has been the most effective way to meet people in a pandemic. The only downside is that everyone is in their own social bubble and you must find a way to burst through, once you do you have an audience to see your content. Social media can be a powerhouse”.

The use of the media as an organizing outlet has fallout though. The same way that these services keep us hyper connected to each other it will connect our information to police, terrorist organizations, and a whole band of other threats. After the 2014 Ferguson protests activists have questioned the mysterious disappearances/deaths of six protesters after their photos appeared on social media. Community activist Bassem Masri states about the police after, “I can’t rely on them, (…) They ain’t gonna say the truth. They ain’t gonna never say the truth. They got their own narrative”. Police have stated that there is no evidence linking the events.

 Though technology linking social media and illegal police surveillance is still in its infancy, the use of tech to allow corporations to surveil us is fully formed. The idea is that you can take the human experience and you can add it to the marketplace, calling it behavioral data. This data is used to sway our thoughts, opinions, actions and buying patterns. Those are the products of social media, pure raw data on individual human behavior to be used for corporate marketing. Shoshana Zuboff wrote in her iconic book ‘Surveillance Capitalism’. “In the future that surveillance capitalism prepares for us, my will and yours threaten the flow of surveillance revenues. Its aim is not to destroy us but simply to author us and to profit from that authorship”.

This conversation about whether or not to use social media is obviously a privileged one. The phone I am using to read those resources was built most probably by underpaid femme groups in the Global South. Many impoverished people in the US do not have access to technology, and the resources that come with it. We can tap into our privilege to help stop overtaking late-stage capitalism that has been facilitated by technology.

Beyond navigating your economic contributions, the benefits to your mental and physical well-being of quitting social media also outweigh the benefits. Not only does it give you more freetime to explore interests outside of algorithms but somehow allows more organic thought. Research on thought suppression of technology is scarce but promising, a University of Buffalo research study has shown there is a connection between intelligent thought creation and technology use. This research is still in its infancy. Social media also has been proven to cause exacerbated mental illness symptoms, especially in girls and women. 

UK Millennium Cohort Study

Whether or not you choose to entirely quit these platforms is up to you but is it worth it to question the role it can have over your life, data and health. There is no long-term research on what the effects of this technology will be, and there seems to be no clear end in sight to the use of that technology and effects already observed  will most likely rise with time and technological advancements. Having a level of awareness over it will give you the power in the relationship to this ever changing, expanding thing. These machines could be our brand new start but they could turn out to be the thing that tears humanity apart.