Social Media – A friend or foe? (5D Leung Chiu Yee, Cherry)


Social Media has been part of people’s daily life, dominating the social lives of modern citizens worldwide. This astonishingly great invention provides platforms for all people to express their own opinions and reply to others’ words freely and openly. When first created, social media was thought to be the ideal place where rational debate and logic would thrive. Yet, as time has shown, social media is regarded as rather a double-edged sword. Some even blame social media for stifling public debate, causing social unrest and hatred between communities, races and nations. Social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and so on, are even boycotted by some Internet users, who are discontent about this phenomenon. Let us dig deep into this issue.

It is undeniable that social media is one of the most important and effective tools in a modern society, especially in this cyber era, for people to express and voice out. Here just in one app or website, users can easily post their own opinions, share their thoughts over specific topics, comment on others’ posts and even join discussions by only a few taps and clicks. Not only is it so convenient, it also links people all around the globe. Netizens are brought closer. That way, everyone can have their say and being listened to by thousands, millions of people, no matter where they are. With the correct attitude and behaviour, social media is no brainer the best platform which encourages peaceful, rational and logical public debate, and hence contributing to society.

However, in reality, some argue that this is surely not the case. Instead, social media has somehow become a war-field full of nonsense arguments and fierce hatred.

As some may not know, social media actually works with big data and AI technologies which monitor and record netizens’ online preferences, showing them content customized based on their preference only. This “tailor-made” experience and the formation of echo chambers will make people become biased eventually even without noticing it. Social studies show that Internet users will then become reluctant to accept new insights and counter opinions. As a result, people are more easily irritated and triggered to start a “fight” with others online.

One example of echo chambers can be found in the president election in Taiwan, China. In Taiwan, the politicians and their supporters can be classified into the “blue camp” and the “green camp”. Every time when the election is around the corner, the political groups, forums and fans pages become active to support their stance. However, as those supporters would only listen to people with the same opinions, they become blind-folded and online fights between the two camps are often found.

Apart from echo chambers, media framing and false information are also hidden traps on social media. In order to spread their personal stance and gain support, or simply just to catch eyeballs, people in power often manipulate information. These strategies are extremely influential to average social media users, especially impressionable teenagers and adults who are frequent users, according to studies. In addition to that, as the pace of the cyber world is simply too fast and ever changing, netizens can hardly afford fact checking to confirm if the information found online is reliable. People’s minds will then be easily influenced and controlled by the “mainstream”, “popular opinion” and influencers, due to the herd mentality.

What’s more, false information on social media can cause harm to society. Back in the early stage of the pandemic, in Iran, someone claimed that drinking pure alcohol could kill viruses and prevent infections on various social media platforms. This piece of ridiculously false information went viral and many people followed those instructions. As a result, many citizens of Iran were seriously injured or even killed. We will never know the original intentions of the people who gave the false information. But we can definitely see and feel the destructive power of those false claims.

With so much false inaccurate and manipulated content flying around, rational and logical discussions are impossible. And never forget the never-ending problems of cyber-bullying which is obviously an irrational, illogical and irritating behaviour done by the irrational, illogical, irritated and irresponsible people, How can social media prompt rational debate, then?

The whole picture of social media is crystal clear. Social media we see now is definitely not the heaven of peaceful and constructive public debate. With the inevitable and deeply-rooted herd behaviour of many users, social media can never be the place for people to discuss and express themselves with true freedom and rationality. Only if all individuals stay critical, digital literate, and have clear minds, could the hell of social media turn into heaven.