We use our phones for sending text messages, calling someone, setting an alarm to wake up early the following day (wait, make that five alarms at five-minute intervals each just to be sure), playing games, watching a movie or an episode of one’s favorite series, listening to one’s favorite music, and a lot more. Another reason we use our phones is to access social media sites or apps, especially in our country here where the Global Digital report shows that in 2017, an average Filipino spent almost four hours on social media. This confirms the country’s reputation as “The Social Media Capital of the World” for three years in a row now. But the social media phenomenon is not limited to the Philippines.

It’s a global phenomenon which is most likely an effect of the emerging Fourth Industrial Revolution. Do you know how many social media users there are all over the world? The same report claims 3.196 billion!

As social beings, we have a desire to connect with one another. No wonder social media is a hit, because we are driven to maximize its use as a tool to build, maintain, and strengthen interpersonal relationships so as to satisfy our needs. Wherever we are, no matter how far we are from other persons, as long as we have Internet access, we can keep in touch.

Overcoming physical borders, social media not only enables us to connect with our circle of friends, but also with the rest of the world. By enabling posting, reacting, and replying to, or submitting a comment, etc., social media have now become a new outlet for expression and a channel where we allow others to know our thoughts and what’s going on in our lives just as we can get to know theirs.

The Social Media Phenomenon
SOURCE: GETTY IMAGES

As we engage in these interactions and expand our social networks, we may feel a stronger sense of belonging to one another and a greater sense of membership in a larger, global community.

What pushes us to post messages or pictures? We spend a percentage, if not a big chunk, of our speech
in communicating about ourselves and our thoughts, feelings, ideas, and experiences. That percentage goes up when done online. How come?

Do we sometimes feel that it is easier to communicate online than in person? Having conversations in physical social interactions can be more demanding as we have to consider facial cues and body language in responding. It also requires more cognitive effort and emotional involvement and doesn’t give us much time to first reflect on our response or how we will make our self-presentation, compared to carrying out text conversations with people through our gadgets.

However, resorting to encoded social interactions may eventually lead to what Suler (2004) referred as “online disinhibition effect” or the loosening up of limitations in online interactions that are otherwise usually present in face-to-face interactions. This effect can work in two opposite directions, according to him. Do you notice that some people share or post very personal things about themselves, like what they feel, their dreams, their fears or even some secrets? That’s what he called “benign disinhibition.”

On the other hand, do you notice some people who use rude or aggressive language, spread hate speech, disseminate fake news and stories or initiate cyber-bullying, maybe in the comment box of a news article or as ‘tweets’, in behaviors they don’t usually exhibit in face-to-face encounters? That’s what he called as “toxic disinhibition.” Both types of online disinhibition have been observed in the Filipino social media landscape, especially toxic disinhibition when expressing political views.

But what could lead us to engage in such types of conversations? Suler (2004) enumerated a number of them but I’ll be sharing only two of them here: asynchronicity and invisibility. Defined by the researcher as “not interacting in real time”, typed-out conversations online can be “asynchronous” at times when people may not be in contact in real time like when you’re online and you leave a typewritten message to someone who is still offline or leave a statement on the comment box and wait for someone to reply.

The Social Media Phenomenon
SOURCE: GETTY IMAGES

Typed-out conversations do not also allow us to see how the person we are talking to is reacting to us, or even hear his intonation as he speaks to us. Being able to see and listen to what and how the other person reacts and exchanging thoughts in real time are both important, because we respond with consideration to observed nonverbal cues, voice pitch, hand gestures, eye contact, and so on. Typed-out conversations can create borders that can sometimes contribute to a lack of empathy with persons we are talking to, and this may lead to disconnecting with people rather than connecting with them, contrary to what social media was intended for.

Nonetheless, new features of messaging apps such as voice and video chats or calls do change this dynamics somehow but the greatest contributor to change would be the social media users themselves and especially what use they make of social media. Park (2016) recommended these ‘digital skills’ which we need to learn and to pass on to the younger generation:

• Digital citizen identity: the ability to build and manage a healthy identity online and offline with integrity

• Screen time management: the ability to manage one’s screen time, multitasking, and one’s engagement in online games and social media with self-control

• Cyberbullying management: the ability to detect and handle wisely situations of cyberbullying.

• Cyber security management: the ability to protect one’s data by creating strong passwords and managing various cyber attacks

• Privacy management: the ability to handle with discretion all personal information shared online to protect our own and others’ privacy

• Critical thinking: the ability to distinguish between true and false information, good and harmful content, and trustworthy and questionable contacts online

• Digital footprints: The ability to understand the nature of digital footprints and their real-life consequences, and to manage them responsibly

• Digital empathy: the ability to show empathy towards one’s own and other people’s needs and feelings online

I also have some friendly reminders from one social media user to another:

When browsing through your ‘news feed,’ be careful not to compare your lives to others, thinking that you need to catch up with them reach their ‘ideal’ lives based on what they posted on their social media profiles. If you’re looking for a person to compete with, compete with yourself.

The Social Media Phenomenon

Learn to control the time you spend on social media use. It should not be the other way around. Don’t forget that you have the power to choose. Use it.

Some people engage in social media with FOMO or the “fear of missing out.” Just be careful not to miss out on the truly essential things in life for which you don’t need the gadgets, like time spent bonding with your families and friends.

It is best to turn off all devices at least an hour before bedtime.

Chang et al. (2014) discovered that “the use of these devices before bedtime prolongs the time it takes to fall asleep, delays the circadian clock, suppresses levels of the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin, reduces the amount of, as well as delays the timing of, REM sleep, reducing one’s alertness the following morning.”

Social media can strengthen bridges, but it can also heighten walls. It is up to us, as netizens, to decide on our netiquette which, in due course, will shape the kind of digital world we want for ourselves. Let’s use social media in a healthy manner and also keep healthy at the same time.

By Giancarlo “Gio” Francisco

References:

Change, A., et al. (2015). Evening use of light-emitting eReaders negatively affects sleep, circadian timing, and next-morning alertness. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 112(4), 1232-1237.

Suler, J. (2004). The online disinhibition effect. Cyberpsychology & behavior. 7(3), 321-326.

Park, Y. (2016, September 06). 8 digital life skills all children need – and a plan for teaching them. World Economic Forum. Retrieved September 6, 2018, from weforum.org

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