The pros and cons of social media, examined.
The rise of social media in the last 15 years has been both a wonderful and a terrible thing. As someone who has used it from the early days, as a marketer and consumer, I’ve often pondered the pros and cons of social media. It surely has many of both.
The aim of this article is to simply take an honest look at a few of the pros vs. cons of social media. It is not an exhaustive list, but a decent start.
Let’s begin with the positive.
Pros of social media
1. Allows us to keep in touch with friends and family
This, to me, is the most foundational benefit of using social media. Do you remember when you first signed up for Facebook? If your experience was anything like mine, you initially found a few friends. Then the “people you may know” kept things interesting, and you began friend requesting all sorts of people from your past. Some of whom you haven’t spoken to in years.
Before you knew it, you were interacting with your best friend from fifth grade, your college professors, the people you didn’t really talk to in high school, all your long lost buddies from all walks of life. It was awesome. People who you never thought to grab their phone number or email address were suddenly available via private message. AND, you got to see what they were eating for dinner, and where they went on vacation. Sweet! (A tad bit of sarcasm there.)
2. Provides a platform for sharing our content
Whether you use social media strictly for personal communication, or business, or some of both, it provides a gateway for sharing our thoughts and other content to essentially anyone in the world. This has been a staple of our lives for so many years that it is easy to forget how radical of a concept that was even 20 years ago.
In such a short, microscopic span of history, the way we communicate has changed so dramatically that someone who died in the mid-20th century would not even recognize life as we know it.
The fact that I can write an article on this website, click a button to publish it, and have it be read by people all over the world is astonishing. Though that speaks specifically to the world wide web, it is closely related to social media. The same is true for publishing content on social media — it has the potential of worldwide reach.
The implications of that are profound.
3. Gives us an outlet to share our perspective (I see you, fellow introverts)
In a busy, loud world – both online and in person – those who produce the most words typically get heard more. Sometimes by sheer volume, apart from substance. Social media puts everyone on equal digital footing in terms of space to speak their mind. (Big tech censorship aside.)
Introverts, whose thought processes moves a little slower by design, often get left behind in real-time conversations because it takes us longer to process our thoughts to the point of sharing them. I’ve written about this before. With social media, we have the sheer joy of taking our time to compose our thoughts, and presenting them without the fear of getting interrupted, which happens so frequently with in person conversations.
Plus, we get to interact with comments in our own time, which in my experience leads to richer, more thought-out interaction. I’ve found that I sometimes find myself getting more energized from having conversations with someone on social media than in real life.
In fact, I often come up with what I think is my best material when I am alone with my thoughts. Introvert issues, I guess.
4. Provides a sense of community
Piggy-backing on the previous points, social media provides a wealth of opportunity to connect with known communities of family, friends, and business associates and to find new, useful communities.
Groups on Facebook and LinkedIn, for example, allow people to connect with others who share the same hobbies, goals, or professions. I’ve benefited immensely from asking questions and dialoging with other copywriters and social media marketing professionals in industry groups.
Then there are group private message strings, having friends pile on comments to something silly you post that increases the hilarity, and being able to carry on a private conversation with someone in direct messaging.
5. Provides jobs in the digital economy
How nicely number four dovetails into number five! As one who has used social media for marketing purposes since the early days, the fact that it creates a whole new segment of jobs is a fact that is near to my heart, and my wallet. If you’d have come from the year 2021 to visit me in high school in the 1990s and tell me one day I’d be a “social media manager,” I can only imagine what sort of blank stare I’d shoot back at you.
That is really something, for an industry that didn’t exist 20 years ago.
6. Gives us access to celebrities
Last and rightfully least in this brief survey of the pros of social media: access to celebrities. When I was a teen, the only hope for contacting celebrities was to write a letter to the address provided in one of the teeny-bop magazines of the day. It undoubtedly went to the office of their agent or manager, into a black hole never to be seen again.
I’m kind of ashamed at how many letters I wrote to celebrities as a silly adolescent fan girl. How many letters got a response? Zero.
Fast forward a few decades, and I can tweet at, or Instagram message ANYONE. The odds of getting a response there are slightly higher these days, because most public figures realize they need to interact with their followers at least some. Though the chances are small, at least they are not zero.
Not that I necessarily think it is a good use of time to try to get responses from celebrities, but the point is, the option is available.
Cons of social media
Just as there are many benefits to using social media, the downsides mount up significantly also. Here are just a handful.
1. Encourages more rudeness than in person
There is something about human nature that shows its dark side when we have a means of communicating with a person or group of people apart from the impact we have in face-to-face discussion. For some reason it emboldens us to say things that we might not have the courage to say in person.
This can be good at times; in the case of sharing our vulnerabilities or giving someone a hard truth for their benefit with which we are uncomfortable. I fear that more often than not, the negative outweighs that.
It only takes a short look at comments on a YouTube video, a political news piece, or a tweet by a public figure to see vulgar filth that would make a foul-mouthed criminal blush. You know what I am talking about if you spend much time online.
Giving people a platform to spew out the vile hate and anger in their hearts towards people they disagree with can do a lot of damage. Especially when the online persona is masked by a pseudonym. Anonymity + a sinful heart can yield some pretty damning material.
2. Increases jealousy and FOMO (fear of missing out)
I’m grateful that social media come along when I was already in my 20s. My heart hurts for young, impressionable children and teens that are already prone to jealousy because social media amplifies it when people post photos of everything they do, eat, drink and with whom they do it. (At least before coronavirus turned the world upside down.)
Being thirteen at one point, years ago, I can still imagine how painful it would be to see what you thought were your best friends, out getting coffee or hanging out with other kids, made apparent by posted group selfies, without so much as a text to invite you to hang out.
“WHY WASN’T I INVITED?? DO THEY NOT LIKE ME ANYMORE? WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME? And a bunch of other punishing emotions that teenagers’ brains are not yet developed enough to recognize, let alone sort out. It has got to hurt.
It takes years, even decades, before you start to realize that most things that most people do or don’t do have nothing to do with you at all, and in fact, you never even crossed their mind while doing it, so there is no point in getting offended over it.
But tell that to an inconsolable teenager who just saw his or her friends hanging with other people on Instagram or TikTok.
3. It is addictive
You might doubt that social media is addictive. Or maybe, you know full well that it is, if you take the time to honestly evaluate how long you spend on social apps, and how many times you open them throughout the day. (For Android users, go to settings -> Digital wellbeing) for an appalling reveal of your stats.
It has been reported that platforms like Facebook are actually designed to be addictive. That’s right – they use psychology and our frail egos and humanity against us to get us to spend more time on their platforms. For the purpose of serving more ads.
4. Leads to oversharing
Don’t shoot the messenger here, but how often do we post things on social media that are basically worthless information? Mundane activities throughout our day that 20 years ago would not have been thought of as relevant, interesting, or worth sharing with the world.
But fast forward to the 2010s, and our coffee, selfies, our meals, our trips to the grocery store — they are all normal fodder for sharing. Why? I do it too, so don’t think of this as some sort of judgment; rather a simple stating of the way things are.
You could make a case that there is nothing wrong with that, and you’d be correct in many ways. However, there is a darker side to it. Which leads me to my next con of social media.
5. Massive personal data going to tech companies
The thing that we don’t always think about when sharing every detail of our lives on social media is where that information is going, how it will be used, and who all will ultimately have access to it.
In the earlier days of social media, it was easy enough to brush off those types of concerns with, “Well, they are just using it so they can serve me ads that are more relevant to my interests and lifestyle. No big deal.” Yes, that is true. But there is so much more to think about these days.
It is one thing to get highly customized ads. It is quite another when you begin to realize just how much information these tech companies possess about you.
I recently downloaded my Facebook and Twitter data; wow. On file is literally every action you’ve ever taken on each site: your posts, comments on others, likes/reactions, every link you’ve clicked, every video you’ve watched, you name it. No click goes unrecorded. That is unnerving.
But wait, there’s more
Then there is the matter that they can and do also actively mine your data in a way that you can’t control: through your contacts. Perhaps you’ve noticed a prompt to “see who you know” on Facebook or Twitter — by uploading your phone or computer contacts to the app or website. When someone does that, if they have your number or email saved in their phone, for example, Facebook now has a record that you are in contact with them. Now they have additional information about you that YOU DID NOT PROVIDE OR GIVE PERMISSION TO ACCESS.
And that is just one transaction. Multiply that times millions of people that upload their contacts to social media sites, and suddenly they have heaps of information that is actively working against your privacy. This article shares more about that, as well as some other chilling privacy implications.
5. Encourages vanity
I’m not sure much needs to be said to expound on this point beyond “selfie culture.” If we are constantly posturing and posing for pictures of ourselves (angle up to hide that double chin!), it naturally follows that we will quite literally be “full of ourselves.” What opportunities for connection with another human are we missing out on as we scroll through our 15 selfie takes for the best one to post on Instagram? (I’m looking in the mirror on this one, too.)
On a related note: Are kids becoming narcissists? If you think about it, Generation Z and below; kids that have only lived in the smartphone/social media era have grown up presumably with the assumption that:
a) having your face in your phone most of the day is normal behavior (it is now, but should it be?)
b) they are the center of the universe, as their earliest memories involve being chased around with a smartphone video camera by their parents, to capture every little thing they say and do. Often too much of which gets shared on social media.
I think we can make a case that that kind of media-centered obsession at the very least impacts their development in a way that is drastically different from preceding generations.
6. Gives kids a platform before they are ready for it
Similarly to points alluded to above, the power and consequences that social media wields are arguably much larger and wider-reaching than a partially-developed teen brain can comprehend. Therefore, I shudder a little bit at the thought of impulsive children and teens sharing all manner of private, inappropriate and unfiltered information online without realizing that, as Brad Paisley sang, “THE INTERNET IS FOREVER.”
To be fair, many grown men and women also post content that they ought not to. But at least they don’t have a partially developed brain to blame for it.
7. Wastes time
This one stings for many of us. Because of the addictive nature (#3) of social media, and the fact that it allows us to stay connected with so many people, many of us find ourselves spending waaay more time on social media than we intend.
I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve derailed productivity in a morning, or an evening, because I got lost in a “Twitter vortex” or some other rats nest of barely useful activity on social media. Not that it is all useless, but many times it is.
I don’t think it is necessary to expound on this point too much, because it is so obvious that this is a major problem with social media use for so many of us.
When I think about all those lost hours in terms of how many more chapters I could have read, articles I could have written, or precious communication with family and close friends I could have initiated instead, the problem becomes more sobering.
Takeaways & Conclusion
I don’t mean to be too pessimistic, though I fear have been. Rather, my goal with this article is to simply bring to your attention a fuller picture of social media consumption and its consequences — if nothing else to aid you in making informed choices for yourself and your children.
I am glad for the many benefits, or pros, of social media. It has enriched my life in myriad ways. On the other hand, I am wary of the cons and eager to share those with others. Ultimately we all must honestly evaluate our social media use, our goals and intentions for it, and make an informed decision about how to move forward.
Out of curiosity I would love to hear if you have any pros or cons of social media you would add to the list that I have overlooked. Let me know your thoughts!