Sunday, 10 December 2017

Social Media - Good or Bad

A lot has been said about children being upset, targeted or abused because of social media, either mentally or physically. I think the same applies to adults as well. I frequently see posts from ‘friends’ on Facebook saying that they have been blocked by people, insulted by people or generally upset by something someone has said. I think it is time to look at what we expect from social media and whether we should be using it.
   Facebook started as a way for students to share what they were doing and have a laugh. It has grown uncontrollably as everyone and his cat wants his/her voice heard.
   Let’s think about how it has changed our relationships. Before Facebook and Twitter (although I don’t use Twitter that much on a personal basis) the only people I knew were those I met face to face. I freely admit I’m not a very good face to face person. I don’t make friends easily, never have, never will. That’s me. I know a fair few people, but no one I have ever worked with has kept in touch, even the people I met through my Guiding days never contact me apart from one true friend. And that’s me. I have one friend from my childhood, one friend from Guides, one friend in the village and one recent friend who shares my love of writing; but I have lots of acquaintances, or people I know but who never visit me and I never visit them. Even family barely keep in touch. That’s me. My early childhood was one of isolation even though we lived in London. For the number of people we knew and called friends, we could have lived on the top of a mountain somewhere.
   I am now on Facebook and have lots of ‘friends’. I put that word in inverted commas because they are not real friends. They are real people and I am very grateful for knowing them. They have widened my world enormously. I know people in America, Germany, Australia, as well as every corner of the UK. They share their lives, sometimes a bit too much, and their views, and have made me think about things I would never have considered before. For that I wish Facebook had been around when I was much younger. I might have gone out and done something constructive with my life instead of just letting it drift by.
   I have been lucky with my ‘friends’. I have never been insulted by any of them. I would dearly miss going through my newsfeed every day (although I really must limit myself) to see what is happening, and going back to being isolated in my own little world. I joined Facebook in the first place to promote my books. Everyone said you have to be on Facebook. Well, I don’t think that is true. I have a Public profile, whatever that means, I think it means anyone can see my posts if they want to and I want everyone in the world to see my posts because I want them to know about my books. So I try to be careful and not share anything but news bulletins and such, not personal stuff that someone might not want the world to know.
   But what about other people, what are they looking for?
   Facebook has been a nightmare for careless users. People getting their homes trashed by strangers because they mentioned they were having a party and not realising who they were inviting. People getting their characters assassinated (and I’m not talking about characters in books being killed off) because someone they don’t really know decides to take a potshot at them. Children being groomed by unsavoury people wanting to do despicable things to them. So everyone needs to be aware of how to stay safe.
   What rules are there to keep everyone happy?
   Very few as far as I can see. You can request posts be deleted. You can block people you don’t want to associate with. But there is very little check on whether anyone is who they say they are; that what they put on their profile is correct; that any groups that are set up are fair to their followers. After all there are millions of things posted every day and it is impossible for every single one of them to be monitored. I’m sure the people who do monitor it have horrendous stories of the things they have taken down.
   With this in mind everyone should be aware of what they are looking for from Facebook and other media. Keeping in touch with family? Fine. Great way for instant contact with family spread around the world, but don’t forget other people on your friends list can see you posts. It might be better to text direct, Skype or Facetime them. Remember when you post pictures of your children those pictures will be there FOREVER. And despite your security settings they may well end up where you don’t want them seen.
   Sharing general chit-chat? Fine. But keep it general. Don’t give out personal details. Don’t bare your soul to the world, because, surprise, surprise, not everyone in the world is as nice as you think you are (don’t we all think we are wonderful). The world is full of people who are richer than you, poorer than you, more intelligent than you, more stupid than you, etc. etc. And you never know how they are going to react to the things you say. Or the things you do.
   I am sure Facebook benefits a huge number of people who are isolated and lonely. But to be safe, to be happy and secure, it is very important to be careful about what you say and do.

Stay safe and enjoy.