The Downside of Social Media

English: A protester holding a placard in Tahr...
English: A protester holding a placard in Tahrir Square referring to Facebook and Twitter, acknowledging the role played by social media during the 2011 Egyptian Revolution. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have noticed something recently as I have been paying attention to the kinds of information shared on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter.   One of the greatest strengths of social media is the fact that anyone and everyone can communicate with just about anyone else practically in real time.  I know that I have had real conversations with friends via Twitter or Facebook posts that were as quick and back-and-forth as if we were on the phone or talking face to face.  Yet, I believe that this speed of disseminating information can also be the greatest downside of social media.

Is it possible that with Twitter, Facebook, breaking news websites and such that we are all too informed?  Or at least informed too soon?  We have the ability now to be apprised of situations as they happen, as soon as the first facts start to file in, are we actually allowing ourselves to be biased by the first few tweeters or posters?

A prime example of this, I believe, was the highly publicized Trayvon Martin case.  First, let me admit that I do not know all of the details of this case, I have not read too many reports about what happened, what I know (ironically, considering this blog post) is almost entirely through Twitter and Facebook and the blogs that I read and follow.  But, it seems to me that from the very beginning, this case was biased in the public eye, based entirely on the way it was first presented by those who first tweeted and posted about it.  We were not allowed to investigate fully, to gather all of the facts, and to have the case presented, as it should be, in a court of law before we started to pass judgment and jumped to conclusions.

In years past, we did not hear about great things until the nightly news, or the newspaper the next morning.  By that time, reporters had time to ask questions, to research the facts and then present them.  It seems that now everyone wants to be the first to have the latest news up on their website or Twitter feed that they begin publishing and posting as soon as they know anything, but definitely before they know enough to state clearly what exactly has happened.  In our desire to know everything first we are compromising the integrity of journalism, the necessity to verify information and fact-check sources.

I see the same thing happening in the field of entertainment as well.  There are so many blog posts out there with spoilers and leaking information about upcoming televisions shows or movies, talking about how good or how bad it is going to be, long before it has ever been made available to the general public.  It’s one thing to have a review published, and it’s no new thing to allow a few to preview a movie before it’s released, but it seems like we are getting too much information too soon, prejudicing us before we can form our own opinions of the material.  There have been many times when I thought I really wanted to see a movie or a television show, but then after reading a review or spoiler-laden blogpost, I was not able to enjoy that movie or show because it was no longer new and exciting.  That is one of the great appeals of new movies, books, shows, or anything – the novelty of not knowing what will happen next, or how it will be resolved.

Maybe this is partly my own fault for being so active online, for constantly reading my Twitter feed, Facebook timeline, and the several blogs that I follow.  Maybe I ask for it, but I would like to be surprised sometimes, to go into a movie or a television show knowing just enough to get me interested enough to pay for the ticket or tune in.  I like seeing new things, I like not knowing what’s going to happen, I like being surprised at how the story develops.

I do believe that social media is a fantastic part of our new technological world.  It is wonderful to be able to communicate with people half a world away instantaneously.  My grandmother is still baffled by the fact that we can, via Skype, talk and see each other though we live 400 miles apart.  And I have heard of collaboration projects with classrooms from different countries talking together, learning together via their computers.  Scientists and scholars can share ideas in real time, without having to wait long months for conferences or to get papers peer-reviewed and then published.  This technology is a good thing, or at least, it has good benefits.  I also think there may be situations where we have too much of a good thing, where knowing too much too soon is actually detrimental.  And, perhaps ironically, I firmly believe the solution to knowing too much too soon via social media and the internet is not, as some would claim, to step away from the information, to learn less and not formulate opinions.  The way we combat bad information is with good information.  If I am complaining that the first posters or tweeters may have their facts skewed or heavily biased, then the solution is to read more posts from more sources and form my own conclusion and opinion based on as much fact and information as I can.  But, when it comes to entertainment, maybe I could stand to turn off and walk away, allowing myself the opportunity to walk into a movie completely unaware and able to be pleasantly surprised.

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