Social Networking: A Detriment To Society At Large?

Living on a tiny island like Malta means that we should be able to find it easier to socialize with our neighbours, friends, and other people than bigger countries. This is possible since we are confined to an area of just 316 km2 . With the arrival of social media sites on our shores, we are witnessing a gradual change in existing societal values. The concept of social media, which encourages people to gossip about others and their personal lives, is well-suited to the Southern Mediterranean culture. Social media websites such as Facebook and Twitter are becoming more popular than ever. For many of us gathering with others, knowing their problems, and sharing experiences is quite a familiar thing.Social media is changing the entire world and having an effect on everybody’s habits. We no longer talk to each other but text. Face-to-face meetings now take place online via chat. Social media sites are the places where we exhibit our photos, dates of birth, hobbies, e-mail addresses and our interests. A lot of information about us that might be of an interest to others is now centralized to a few popular sites. Social media has become a powerful but virtual ‘word of mouth’.

The Impact of Social Media on Children

I never wanted nor dreamed of becoming a teacher. I do not really know what being a teacher entails, but somehow I know that not everyone can be a teacher. Becoming a teacher takes a lot of passion. Being an inquisitive person I am constantly trying to find answers for many unanswered questions. Having a background in Communication and Social Studies leaves me eager to find responses for some relevant questions: how does all this new media affect children’s cognitive, emotional and social development? How does it help children create their identities?

In Malta there is a pressing need to study how interactive media influences our children’s behaviour and learning. One thing that seems clearer is that no electronic medium’s effects are all good or all bad: it is the content and quantity of time spent with that media. The world is turning into a ‘global village’ and the power of the mass media and of the social networking sites is influencing and changing society and our way of life.

The amount of media consumption is taking over people’s social lives. Nowadays, the ‘chat room’ interactions are becoming the children’s real-world social lives. I am currently embarking on a research project which will provide a closer look at the consequences that the social media bring to secondary school children in the Maltese educational context.

The area of research will be students who use online social networking sites and ask the question “how much is too much?” Several teachers will be interviewed so that their perceptions of online social networking and its relation to student performance and social life can be gauged. The aim of study is to discover whether students’ academic performance is hindered or helped by their use of online social media and to discover how social media and online interactions shape the social lives of our students.

A Dangerous Phenomenon?

Another key issue is how social networks collect data about users and how this data is used for commercial purposes. How many of us have read the terms and conditions section of Facebook and similar websites in their entirety. They own the copyright to everything users post from text, photos, video and more. It is a fact that any online data can be used for commercial purposes.

Having studied Media at University, I am aware of the hazards that lurk with the use of social networking. This is a reminder that social networking sites are not a private living room or social club. Social networking sites expose our lives to millions of people. This has created an environment that is fraught with dangers and unknowns.

I hope, after reading this piece, that I did not spoil your fun. I believe that the world of social media has enhanced and equipped my life with additional multipurpose tools, what about you?

David Carabott is a freelance writer (BA Communication & Social Studies) currently reading for a Master in Creativity & Innovation and PGCE with Social Studies at the University of Malta.
davecarb@onvol.net