By Mickey Skidmore, AMHSW, ACSW, MACSW

I have often thought I’d like to get my hands on the person who coined the phrase “social media”. Because from my vantage point, it is perhaps the most significant oxymoron of the modern age. Paradoxically speaking for increasing numbers of people, the effect of “social media” in fact serves to isolate individuals. Furthermore, it is perhaps the most powerful and available tool to advance misleading, confusing and absolutely false information to the masses. And finally, it is alarming that many of the companies that travel in the social media universe employ insidious strategies to track our behaviours and are so cavalierly derelict with our personal and private information (data) which is the price we pay for such technology and convinces that come with our mobile phones and other devices.

Sure it’s cool all of the ways we can communicate with each other on our mobile devices. However, I can’t be the only one that finds it disturbing that when families do manage to make it to the dinner table, that they staring into their screens rather than actually conversing directly with their loved ones. I also find myself shaking my head in dismay at the increasing number of people walking on the streets glued to their phones, rather than watching where they are walking. Without a contextual awareness of the phenomenon of social media, an alien observing human behaviour could easily write off the human race as a mass of mindless zombies completely and totally absorbed by their mobile phones.

And while it may be a generational thing, but I am increasingly frustrated when I receive a text message from someone, and when I attempt to respond by actually calling them to engage in a phone conversation, they refuse to answer the phone — even though they just messaged. While younger generations may prefer to communicate via text, I find that this is a context where there is increased likelihood of miscommunication. Too many times I have experienced failed efforts to communicate complex issues via text messaging, which would have more easily and succinctly been accomplished and better understood with a direct phone conversation.

Sometimes, its as though younger generations forget that the primary application or function of this mini-computer they can carry in their hands is in fact a phone.

The fact that anyone can simply advance any false statement and in Orwellian fashion manipulate the platforms of “social media” to advance, repeat, and gaslight such statements to the point that the masses can no longer discern the truth is nothing short of frightening. In the previous election in the USA there was an internet story advancing the notion that Hillary Clinton was running a pedophile ring out of a pizza parlour! The fact that companies such as Facebook deals with such issues with a hands off, look-the-other-way approach is nothing short of irresponsible. All of the major US television companies acknowledge taking some responsibility for the content (truthfulness) of the advertisements it allows to be broadcasts on their airwaves. So why can’t Facebook, Google, LinkedIn and other social media giants figure out some way to own up to any sense of accountability?

And then there is a an aspect unique to social media knowns a “likes”. In short, the influence of social media popularity has become a driving force in social media related businesses. Unfortunately, this dynamic seems to transcend the reality of the actual business qualities itself. Thus, the success of any given business has less to do with the actual quality of the product or service it provides, and more to do with the how successful influencers can mobilise popularity and social media followings. It’s a peculiar business model wherein the outcome takes on a superficial life of its own that often has little or nothing to do with the actual business itself. 

I also have serious security concerns with many of these platforms. I have received numerous communications from individuals, allegedly under the guise of a LinkedIn platform. Yet, when I mention this to the individual directly, they inform me that they are not on LinkedIn or do not have a LinkedIn profile. And while this may not be entirely fair, the fact that an unscrupulous hacker can so easily infiltrate one of these platforms for their own nefarious agendas makes me incredibly leery of all social media platforms.

This leads to my final, and perhaps the most difficult issue, the ethical dilemma of relationship between these issues and concerns with our personal and private information and data. With increasing regularity we read stories in the news of how many large company data bases have been compromised with thousands of individual’s personal data being stolen. Likewise, there are increasing numbers of people who have had their (digital) “identities” stolen as a result of some of these concerns associated with social media and other digital platforms.

Most people take for granted all the cool things that can be done with their mobile phones. And their thirst for ever more cooler things is what keeps companies rolling new devices every year, with more and more technology crammed into these hand-held machines. What most people generally don’t consider is the ethical dilemma associated with these expectations and desires. The reality is, the price we pay for such conveniences is we hand over personal information and details to these companies (ironically in the name of security) to use in ways they see fit. And then when things go horribly wrong, then we are outraged. The trade off seems to be that in exchange for these technological conveniences, we no longer can be assured of the security of our private data.

Surely there are those who would argue the benefits of social media. And most have come to accept and do not question the label of “social media”. However, despite the convenience and occasional marvels social media may be capable of — ironically and paradoxically it actually contributes more to social isolation. Its platforms are openly manipulated in order to advance Orwellian-like falsehoods and misinformation that threaten the institutions of facts and truth itself. The security of these platforms are vulnerable by both hackers, and the overseers of this technology who are cavalier with the protection of our digital data. And all of the social media giants use your data in unscrupulous ways to track our behaviours (hoping either we won’t realise this or, worse, not care about it). Given these issues, I have come to view “social media” as perhaps one of the most dangerous technological applications of our time.