Stop Using Social Media as the Scapegoat for Society’s Demise

During the early morning hours of May 7, Nicki Minaj took to Twitter to help fans in need. Over the course of this dialogue, Minaj agreed to pay out an estimated $30,000 of her own money to help the fans in question afford their college tuition and school supplies. While many critics might be skeptical about the motive behind her random acts of philanthropy, it’s hard to ignore that Minaj’s generous soul would never have connected with these struggling individuals had it not been for social media.

Of course, it’s easy for people to focus on social media’s failings. It promotes narcissism. It’s an unyielding distraction. It hinders everyone’s attention span. However, along with the bad, we’ve been exposed to a world of good that outweighs any negative sentiment. We now have an outlet for connecting with people outside our immediate circle, allowing us to learn and grow in ways we never could have before its creation.

Thanks to Twitter (and the Web, in general), we have the opportunity to remain abreast of international news in real time. Yes, there’s an enormous amount of content to sift through at any given moment, but by adopting healthy social media habits, it’s simple to filter through what’s important and what’s frivolous fluff. You see, those who claim that social networks drain people’s time and ruin kids’ attention spans are those who’ve failed to master healthy social habits themselves. All good things must be consumed in moderation—even media. We may live in the era of the Netflix binge, but that doesn’t mean such behaviors are smart. When used properly, social media arms us with the tools necessary to dismantle widespread ignorance and hold public figures accountable. Social media acts as the weapon we need to effectively fight for what’s right.

Following the U.S. presidential election, for instance, voters quickly took to social media—in some cases to celebrate, in some cases to express their disbelief and anguish while establishing the foundation for what’s now known as The Resistance. Women came together via social to plan and execute the Women’s March on Washington, as well as its sister marches across the world. And organizations, such as Planned Parenthood and the ACLU, have turned to social media to mobilize supporters and bolster donations. Without such outlets, these groups never would’ve come together so quickly and effectively. Without social media, it would’ve been much more difficult for these like-minded activists to find one another and turn their mutual disgust into productive outreach.

Even in less extreme cases, social media has the potential to make people feel less alone. Prior to social networks, outcasts likely felt that there was no one else in the world who understood their struggle. But, by being able to express their emotions online, many have found support they might’ve otherwise gone without. Those with minor grievances can also take solace in social media, for the memes and comics that rule the space demonstrate we’re not as alone as we once thought. (No, you’re NOT the only one who feels that way!) Critics will argue that social media has the opposite effect, as Facebook and Instagram posts often make said outcasts feel even more out of the loop than before, but when you stop to evaluate the new connections at their fingertips, it’s easy to see that social empowers them to change their situation for the better.

Face it—bullies will never cease to exist. There’ll always be people who tear others down in order to make themselves feel superior, no matter their platform of choice. But it’s our responsibility to teach today’s children how to navigate these new networks. Our parents taught us how to handle the challenges that came along with growing up, and we’ll have to do the same. Kids still have to face the same battles, even if they’re fighting on uncharted battlefields. Remember! We’re the ones who created this supposed mess, so we’re the ones who will have to right the course. We will have to teach them how to limit their screen time. We will have to teach them how to be mindful of others online. We will have to teach them not to idolize the manipulated images and personas they see across platforms.

Parents and authority figures who believe social media has ruined today’s youth are merely projecting their own insecurities, for they exhibit these less than stellar behaviors themselves. They’re guilty of deifying the celebrities they follow, and checking their phones excessively. They’ve become addicted to refreshing their feeds and awaiting new notifications. Yet, each time another adult gives their child an iPad or smartphone as a stand-in for an actual caretaker, they perpetuate the very problem they wish to rectify. Unless we take responsibility for how we conduct ourselves, we will never be able to alter the issue at hand.

Until then, critics will continue to focus on social media’s failings and blame these networks for what’s wrong with the world. Social media isn’t without its flaws, of course, but we mustn’t overlook the value it brings to the modern world. As with any tool, social can be used for good or evil. Let’s remember what social media can help us accomplish—as was the case with Nicki Minaj—before we vilify these networks once and for all.

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(This post originally appeared on Storia.)

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We’re All Flying “Han” Solo

Why Validation Must Come From Within

As I grew up, I began to realize that the concept of actually growing had been lost on my DNA.  Even now, as a 23-year-old woman measuring just less than 5’, the short jokes get tossed about like a football.  (Cue traumatizing “Monkey in the Middle” memories.)  However, this then hurtful teasing eventually taught me the greatest character-building lesson of all – to defend myself and embrace my personality, humor and talents regardless of how petite the packaging appeared.

We live in a world fixated on conformity, so to find children who highlight stereotypes and ostracize others based on their interest or appearance simply comes naturally as they mature.  How one handles the situation often indicates whether such experiences turn out to be successful life lessons.  And for Katie’s mother, grace did not come into play when her daughter’s choices were under fire.

The entire fiasco began when Katie came home from school upset one day, only to confess that her male classmates teased her about bringing a Star Wars water bottle to school for lunch (though how they’ve managed to neglect her matching Star Wars backpack, I will never understand).  As her mother, Carrie Goldman, explains, Katie happens to be quite an avid Star Wars fan, but refused to carry the bottle any longer after the boys claimed Star Wars was not for girls.  When faced with a child breaking into tears, most mothers would console their child and teach them that they are special for there never has been and never will be another person like them in this world.  Most teach children to love themselves and embrace their differences despite the potentially overbearing opinions of others.

Instead, Katie’s mother hopped on the Internet to tell Katie’s story and solicit the help of strangers all across the globe.  Though she simply intended to find a few female sympathizers, Ms. Goldman seems to have underestimated the universality of childhood teasing.  And while it appears we have another heartwarming story of people coming together on our hands, we are actually witnessing the extent of the dangers the Internet poses to this young generation that has never known a time without Wi-Fi.

The Internet, you see, provides a forum for instant gratification.  With social networking now an integral part of our daily lives, we need only hop on our computers or Smartphone to gain access to a world of strangers looking for the exact type of approval and validation our dear Katie desires.  Instead of finding people who accept Katie for her differences, Ms. Goldman has simply found hundreds and thousands of people who are exactly like Katie, emphasizing a power in numbers and sameness, not the strength of individuality.  How will Katie ever truly appreciate her personality if she seeks those just like her every time she feels shunned by her peers?

Generations upon generations of children have survived such relatively harmless teasing, and all have emerged stronger and more self-assured than when they began.  Never once in this whole entire ordeal have we learned that validation must come from within and that self-confidence can only come to be when you are fully satisfied with yourself.  And to even attempt to equate such teasing with the severity of bullying as it has appeared in the news as of late has no concrete bearing, for children are bound to clash.  Tolerance and acceptance begins at an early age, and much bigotry comes from the unsavory values of one’s parents.  Promote confidence and independence throughout your child’s formative years and have faith in your efforts as a parent, for every child is different from another.  And while Dec. 10 now also stands as “Support Star Wars and Geek Pride for Katie” – a judgmental name in and of itself as it implies Star Wars attracts only “geeks” – not every child will find their mother scouring the Internet for support.  The rest of today’s youth will simply have to learn to love themselves the old-fashioned (and seemingly antiquated) way.

Photo courtesy of Chicago Now