Take three: Social media


Friend or Foe - is social media good for society or a bad influence? A forum for sharing owned by its users or a haven for bullying and bad behaviour? Old Joe asked three academics to lend their voices to a very modern debate.


'Social media is good for society. When Twitter  launched, people said:  “What can you say  in 140 characters?”  but look at it now – it raises  awareness of humanitarian causes  and generates mass support.  ‘Social media connects people to  what’s happening around the world,  but more than that, it connects them  with people who they may not access in any  other way. And that connection can humanise  those people. For example, someone in the UK can connect with someone in Iran and realise that  although they may live thousands of miles apart, they  have common concerns; such as good healthcare  and a decent education.  ‘Different societies use social media in different ways.  In China, it exists under heavy surveillance, but  is still used to cover a huge range of topics,  while in Iran, Twitter is an often-used tool  for mass protests.  ‘Social media will continue to develop  globally. It will become quicker and more  dynamic to enable more conversation,  but the paradox will be that those  conversations will become more specific  – it will become another tool in our  arsenal to find  out about and  engage with what’sgoing on in the world.’

Professor Scott Lucas  specialises in US/UK foreign  policy and international  current affairs


'One of the issues is that the norms of behaviour are still  evolving. It’s not yet clear  what is and isn’t  appropriate, and in order to tackle this  problem, we all need to have a better  understanding of social media, which  will equip us to deal with issues like  cyber bullying, stolen identities and the  addictive effects of social media – we  know people are waking up to check for  text messages and status updates in the  middle of the night. Social media is an extremely  powerful, positive way of connecting people, but  people shouldn’t use it as a way to validate themselves.  ‘One of the advantages social media has is that it gives  individuals the power to decide how they want to present  themselves – they can choose to show only the positive  parts of their lives and personalities.  Unfortunately, the downside is that there  are men pretending to be teenagers in  order to engage with youngsters.  ‘Another negative aspect is one  where bullying, abuse and obnoxious  behaviour occur. In some sense, social  media magnifies people’s attitudes  and, because they don’t see the impact  that their actions have on their  “victims”, it’s  easier to go  further and further.’ 

Professor Russell Beale is a  Professor of Human-Computer  Interaction in the School of  Computer Science


'We are in the early stages of understanding the significance of social media as a venue for  expressing views.‘Social media can be an indication  of the effectiveness of democracy  within a society – we’re starting to see  governments being swayed by large  numbers of people uniting to use social  media to protest, the Arab Spring being a  case in point. It has the potential to empower  the ordinary person to hold politicians to account.  ‘I started an online petition to the Albanian government in  2013, asking it to build a road in Dibra that would improve the  region’s economy and infrastructure. Successive opposition  parties have supported the road, only to drop the plans when  they came to power. I now have thousands of names on my  petition and the government is starting to pay  attention. We need to learn how to channel  social media so that we can positively  apply it to democratic processes.  ‘We’ve seen how effectively politicians  like Barack Obama can use social media.  However, elsewhere, politicians are  using it as an alternative to meeting with  the electorate face to face. This is creating  a politics of popularity, where success  is gauged by the  number of “likes”  or followers they have.’ 

Dr Gëzim Alpion specialises  in the sociology of success,  religion, race, ethnicity, film,  media and authorship



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