Shadow Education Secretary Tristan Hunt has recently commented that modern students lack the necessary attention spans to learn and perform most effectively in class, providing a poor preparation for the world of work in adulthood. Hunt believes that social media and digital gadgets are highly corrosive to schoolchildren’s ability to concentrate.
This may be true. I can only testify to the distracting phenomenon of Vine videos, diverting my attention away from my essays. However, this concentration problem is relatively insignificant, in comparison to the growing list of negatives that can be attributed to social media.
Social media sites are more potentially damaging to children’s lives than their ability to concentrate in class. This is a problem that has manifested itself in today’s society and needs to be addressed.
Over the last decade, social media sites have been completely assimilated as a regular fixture of our lives. Many of us, each day, post a tweet, browse through Facebook or upload pictures on Instagram, as part of our daily routine; to share our lives with our friends. We consider this normal behaviour, especially as the generation that was the epicentre of the social media boom. However, would you consider it disturbing to think that primary school children carry out that same daily routine described each day?
I remember when I signed up to Facebook five years ago, a relatively late comer at fifteen years old. Today, it is common for children in the transition of moving into secondary school, to have their own accounts with the same exposure to the digital world as we ourselves use these social media sites for. Flimsy regulations such as age restrictions are simply sidestepped by our more technologically adept youngsters, causing serious problems.
Obviously the immediate concern that this issue brings up is child grooming. How many times in recent years have we seen news stories in which children have disappeared to meet strangers they have met online, interacting with them as if they know them? These people can turn out to be dangerous, manipulative and older people. Of course, many of us utilise our common sense when considering whom we speak to and allow access to our profiles on the Internet, yet these stories are becoming more common.
Children are not being educated in how to use the Internet safely and are allowed to wander naively into this dangerous world. By allowing social media to become part of a child’s life at an earlier stage than necessary, we are only adding fuel to the fire.
There are other negatives. Social media allows us to present our lives to other people; yet when does this cross the boundaries of obsession? Why are we so thrilled if lots of people ‘like’ one of our pictures, or one of our musings is ‘retweeted’ several times by our ‘followers’.
Modern people love to use social media sites to present the most idealised form of themselves that they can to others. This is seen in the flattering pictures and the witty tweets and statuses they post.
Yet why is this such a pressing concern? Many of us act very differently in the flesh than we do online. However social media self-presentation ironically can have the opposite effect. They can also be unforgiving repositories of embarrassing or damaging material.
Videos of inappropriate activities, embarrassing pictures, and controversial comments: these are available to future employers to trawl through during job applications, damaging potential careers. Even Facebook, disconcertingly, has considered itself entitled to start producing film montages of your pictures to describe your life stored on the site.
Furthermore, there is the latest mutation of ‘cyber-bullying’, in the form of ‘trolling’. Twitter in particular has been exposed for the shocking ease in which users can post sickening and abusive comments to other users, mainly famous celebrity figures, and escape sanction under the anonymity of a fake profile. Abuse ranges from being foul-mouthed, racist, homophobic, and sexist. Prominent feminist figures have been threatened with rape for airing their views provoking a ‘Twitter Silence’ campaign to stand up to these cowards that post vile abuse. Although celebrities make for easier targets, ‘trolling still affects many everyday users, from schoolchildren to working adults, savaged for their opinions or just another opportunity for bullying. James Blunt’s fightback is both hilarious and admirable, but makes light of a serious issue of social media sites.
Social media sites are a relatively lawless Wild West, in which trolls can spout their bile without fear of prosecution. This sets an unhealthy attitude among users. Cyber bullying is now present in so many forms; it can only be detrimental to this next generation of children if they continue to be put in the situation where they are exposed to it at earlier ages.
Despite the overwhelming pessimism o f this article, I am not anti-social sites. I regularly use them and enjoy their benefits in my student life. However, they are allowing problems to gestate which are harmful to society, with little being done to eradicate them. Very soon, these positives will surpass the negatives and we will suffer the consequences.