A frequently brought up inquiry in modern civilization is whether or not social media is beneficial to mankind. While this question plagues the minds of millions and shows up everywhere from YouTube recommendations to editorial journals, the answer is quite simple. It is the same answer to the age-old question, is a knife inherently bad? Evidently this emotionless object does not carry malicious intent, it’s just a tool that can be used for harm but can also be used for equal good in activities such as cooking. This applies to social media as well. It is nothing more than a platform reflecting and amplifying the voices of the tens of millions that use the space.
Social media is just the next step in a long line of advances and inventions created to further our need for connectivity as our population grows and quickly fills up every niche around the globe. From the earliest days of civilization when empires were in the earliest stages of inception, messages by voice were the primary means of communication among towns and villages scattered about. The first civilization to regularly develop communication channels between three continents—Africa, Asia, and Europe—was the Persians. This road was the target of much jealousy across the lands and became one of the foundational pieces that allowed the empire to survive for such a long time. This type of communication spread by horseback and through mouth to mouth was soon deemed obsolete as more complex systems with letters and telegrams delivered by train or boat sped up the speed at which messages were delivered and news could be spread. With faster connections came bigger and bigger worlds and empires allowing people not just separated by land but by large swaths of ocean to talk to each other. Monarchs could rule lands they’ve never set foot before and trade with empires in which they’ve never set eyes on.
The combined knowledge of humankind also greatly amplified at a quickening rate with the ability to connect more and more minds in a heightened state of comradery and collaboration. In the words of Alina Brad, “the process of science is designed to challenge ideas through research,” and out of anything, this community was one greatest platform that allowed the greatest minds of today to work together. The exponential growth of human progress following the steady rise in human connectivity is evidence enough of this.
Social media is just another step in this evolutionary chain. Using the internet instead of boats and trains, it creates one of the most freeing and least restricting places to voice your words. It not only strips the boundaries of time and space but also class. Just 20 years ago a quarter of all adults were illiterate and hardly many could afford to spend time and money writing a letter out of ink and quills and pay to have it delivered. When most letters were too expensive timewise and moneywise, messages and social media have provided a way for you to stay connected with friends around the globe. One man I interviewed lamented about childhood friends who he reconnected with through social media after stumbling upon their posts and vise versa. “It would’ve never happened without the likes of social media, (facebook)” he told me. “It’s one of the most empowering tools to me as an individual. I can see news and stories rarely covered by conventional media that really should get to more people!” Just four days ago, middle school boys banded together on discord to compile evidence on a teacher who had been sexually harrasing girls when no adult would. When they saw their classmates’ allegations being brushed off by the people who were meant to help them, they were sickened and with the help of discord, helped expose the man. Some of the evidence they collected was truly disgusting, noting a time when he asked the female students to wear swimsuits to school or when he asked one of them to go barefoot and wiggle her toes for him. Soon this vile pedophile was walked out of the middle school for good.
With such a powerful tool, such good always has a bad. This amplification of individuals has amplified everyone, including the malicious. Misinformation runs rampant on social media as well purposefully targeting uneducated people. Antivaxx started decades ago when a scientist who had been shunned for his almost criminally negligible works wanted a moment in the spotlight and published a work saying that vaccination caused autism. While this was almost immediately disproven, the damage was done and the fire was spreading through the dry kindling that is social media. Moms who never received proper education and were blinded by worry jumped into the flames only to cause the very preventable death of their babies under the guise of motherly protection. The crazy and the cuckoo also had their voice shown tenfold reaching people who were susceptible to their idiotic preachings when normally they would be written off as insane. Facebook was recently exposed for their algorithm which purposefully put hate and stupidity on the screens of users after calculating viewer retention elongates when arguments are sparked.
Here is where we go back to our original metaphor for the knife. Even though it is in the mind of the wielder to decide how the tool is used, we must regulate such a dangerous weapon so damage is mitigated in case dangerous people were to get their hands on it. Social media is a new tool and right now the only restrictions in place are motivated by corporate greed taking advantage of the relative naivety that most people have on the topic of social media. Just as we have put in laws to make people accountable for violent actions taken with a knife, we must put in some regulation on the happenings online. Social media is neither a tool inherently built for hate and definitely not something purely good. It’s a tool that’s being allowed to run rampant for far too long, and, with some regulation, can become a tool like no other to further our progress as a species.
Daniel Kim (September 2022)