The rapid technological development of the 21st century has changed a variety of spheres of human activity. Social media is one of the recent phenomena, which have had a profound impact on society. It can be viewed from both a positive and a negative point of view, as it demonstrates a range of varying effects. Young people remain highly susceptible to change, which is why the impact of social media becomes evident in their case. Teenagers and young adults constitute the absolute majority of social media users, and how they are affected by this phenomenon is an area of intense interest for research. The purpose of this paper is to examine the impact of social media on the younger generation of users in terms of benefits and disadvantages.
Social Media and the Youth Today
Social media has become a distinct phenomenon of the 21st century, as it reflects modern technological advancements. It exists in many formats, including convenient, smartphone-based ones, thus attracting more people. An average modern person begins their exposure to social media at an early stage of life. According to Nesi, children under the age of two in the United States spend an average of forty-two minutes playing with screen media (116). Simultaneously, over 95% of American teenagers have constant access to a smartphone, and 45% of them admit to staying online almost constantly (Nesi 116). In other words, an average person of the 21st century becomes acquainted with social media very early and remains accompanied by this phenomenon across different stages of life. In addition, social media itself is an evolving concept, which adapts recent advancements to contemporary demands. The amount of content available to modern users is, indeed, unprecedented, which explains higher levels of engagement on behalf of them. In other words, people find more interesting activities on social media, which is why its popularity grows at a quick pace.
Social media has different forms, and several definitions can be used. Nesi explains it as “any digital tools or applications that allow users to interact socially, and can be distinguished from traditional media by the fact that users can both consume and create content.” There is an array of websites, which utilize a similar model, and the list includes Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, and Twitter. Mellon and Prosser state that, while the last two networks are particularly important, their users are not representative of the general population. The differences lie in such aspects as demographics, political views, and political behavior. An average social media user is young and educated, demonstrating liberal views (Mellon and Prosser). At the same time, the rest of the population, showing opposing views, is not as active in the online political environment. In the case of Great Britain, for example, an average social media user is less likely to vote while being more likely to support left-leaning parties and personalities. Accordingly, social media remains the setting, which is dominated by young users, who demonstrate particular views and behaviors, determining how the websites function.
Therefore, teenagers and young adults constitute the core of each major social network’s audience. YouTube (85%), Instagram (72%), Snapchat (69%), and Facebook (51%) remain the most visited websites for adolescents ages 13-17 (Nesi 116). The explanation for this tendency can be explained by the particular characteristics of social media, which make appealing to the young audience. As stated in the definition presented above, this form of modern communication allows users to create content along with consuming it. Accordingly, it responds to the people’s demands for socializing and self-realization, allowing them to contribute to the discussion. According to Nesi, these aspects are especially important for adolescents who actively seek peer evaluation and social approval (116). Additionally, social media is incredibly convenient, as it can be accessed anywhere via a computer, a laptop, or a mobile phone. Overall, this format of content-making and communication responds to the demand of a young audience and attracts adolescents, who form the majority of its users.
Negative Effect of Social Media
Similar to other phenomena, the influence of social networks can be examined in both positive and negative light. In the second case, online media is often associated with an array of issues, including social anxiety and alienation. Singh et al. investigated the described issue in the context of the Indian youth and concluded that online media is often overused, thus entirely captivating the attention of the young audience. In other words, people become dependent on this form of communication and form a strong addiction. As a result, their actual relationships and real-life activities are at risk, as they spend too much time on smartphones and computers. Besides, online media is often associated with more profound issues, which entail serious consequences. Such websites are discussed in the context of modern values of diversity and representation, as they serve to enable effective communication and socialization. Brough et al. write about the ethical side of social media, adding that it can be disempowering for underrepresented youth. Accordingly, it is necessary to make online communication ethical and inclusive so that it can meet its objective for all people.
Simultaneously, the medical aspect of the discussed issue is also considered by researchers. First of all, social media is said to have a detrimental impact on one’s mental health and well-being. Nesi connects such risks to the phenomenon of peer pressure and bullying, which leads to instances of self-harm and suicidal thoughts (117). Intahchomphoo supports this statement, adding that the pressure contributes to the actual suicide rates worldwide. The online environment excludes the necessity of personal interaction, thus catalyzing conflicts. In other words, social media users feel free to express ideas, which they would hesitate to pronounce in real life due to the lack of imminent punishment. Furthermore, online media contains numerous images and descriptions of so-called risky behavior, consisting of alcohol abuse and drugs. Statistics presented by Nesi show that young people exposed to such images are more likely to demonstrate similar behavior, as well (118). This means that the Internet is full of negative role models for adolescents and how indecent behavior is presented pushes them toward trying. Overall, online media subjects young people to a colossal amount of psychological pressure.
Positive Effect of Social Media
On the other hand, social media is not an inherently negative phenomenon for the youth. As studies continued to examine the nature of online media, an array of positive effects was revealed, as well. First of all, the Internet facilitates community outreach, which comprises adolescents. As people spend much time online, social media website become their primary sources of information, shaping their worldviews, and providing them with knowledge (Chan and Holosko 680). Therefore, such channels can be utilized by the government and other organizations to promote positive ideas. Chan and Holosko say that online-based youth outreach is characterized by “greater visibility of interactions and improved immediacy, but also implies losing privacy, and changes in professional identity” (680). At the same time, while communication on the Internet leads to increased peer pressure and contributes to youth suicide rates, an opposite tendency is also possible (Intahchomphoo). It is possible to run effective suicide prevention campaigns in the online environment, thus informing adolescents on its dangers. Accordingly, since the Internet shapes the opinions of the youth, it is possible to utilize this instrument positively and promote important values.
Summary and Conclusion
In conclusion, social media has become an integral element of modern life, as it is embedded in the daily processes of the majority of people. Young people are particularly susceptible to new advancements, and the vast majority of them devote considerable amounts of time to online media. Accordingly, the effect of these websites on young minds has been thoroughly investigated. There is a range of risks associated with the use of online media by teenagers and young adults. First, Internet communication leads to increased peer pressure, which, in turn, causes anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts in adolescents. Simultaneously, young people, in general, spend too much time on their smartphones and computers. Consequently, the quality of their offline relationships and activities decreases. Nevertheless, online media can have a positive effect on the youth, as well, if it is utilized to promote modern values and related positive ideas.
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Intahchomphoo, Channarong. “Social Media and Youth Suicide: A Systematic Review.” AIS eLibrary, 2018, Web.
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