I have a real love/hate relationship with social media, I both love and despise the power that it harnesses. I watch the harrowing footage of those brave women over in Iran as they undertake their #unveiledwalking protest, trying to ensure that Mahsa Amini’s death was not in vain, whilst for every moment they’re protesting they themselves risk coming to the same fate at the hands of the so-called morality police. In those moments I’m in awe of their bravery and also in awe of the power of social media
Then I read up on things like the TikTok Blackout Challenge and note the damage that social media can inflict. On the 1st Sept this year, it was reported that 8 children had already died trying the infamous challenge that had so publicly ended the life of 12-year-old Archie Battersbee. I mean 1 child’s life is too many right. . . but 8!
Years speaking to students who felt that they had found their “tribe” online makes me grateful for such a connected global network, then a quick conversation with somebody that learned the majority of their eating disorder “hacks” by equally “finding their tribe”. . . and once again I’m scared about what our children are now exposed to.
I’m adamant that the rise of referrals for a neurodiversity assessment is in part fuelled by the rise of symptom information now readily available on sites such as Twitter and TikTok. Knowing how liberating that diagnosis can be for people that have struggled in their attempts to fit into a neurotypical world with no understanding that their brain was just wired differently, I’m again celebrating the spread of important information in a viewer-friendly format.
For sure the pandemic lockdown life expedited the Truman show life that so many people now live. Suddenly we can all be the stars of our own digital TV series. The rise of influencers and indeed digital celebrities has been fascinating to watch. We can all acknowledge an “Instagram” life as opposed to “real life” and yet so many of us opt into this parallel online world so willingly.
I’m old enough to remember a world without the internet and maintain that this globally connected world is so much easier but we need to understand it better. As I mused here the rise in popularity of some influencers is hugely concerning and massively divisive to our society. How ironic that with all the facts finally at our fingertips so many people are content to stay in their own echo chambers, accusing those that disagree with them of not doing their research.
For a world that is attempting to break the shackles of binary thinking (no doubt again accelerated by people finding their tribe) social media debates lack any nuance – you either agree or get cancelled? Where’s the spectrum of opinion that used to make all of us question our beliefs? I used to love going to the pub when I was younger listening to friends that might have very different opinions to me and allowing myself to be challenged. It’s how I evolved, and indeed how I’m still evolving.
So this is me a 50-something adult trying to grapple with the pros and cons of online life, so how the hell do we keep our children safe online? Between social media and streamed media, they are potentially getting bombarded with a lot of grown-up information that they might not need to know yet.
Until us adults can fully grasp what this interconnected world really means we don’t stand a chance of keeping our children safe. Online bullying turns playground bullying into the Hunger Games and yet still parents think that social media is harmless. Parents bitching in Whatsapp groups’ fail to see that like their children they’ve moved toxic conversations online, resulting in what once would have been a conversation at the school gate suddenly turn into a rallying cry of defiance about whatever it is the school has done this time. Teachers are fighting the online battle from all sides, whilst trying to navigate an online presence themselves.
The bottom line is of course that social media is still relatively young, and when it was still maturing the pandemic forced it to grow up a little bit too quickly, and now we’re all trying to play catch up with this truculent adolescent.
It’s worth noting that according to the age limit set by all social media companies primary schools shouldn’t have to deal with this issue at all, giving teachers and parents time to educate the children about online safety and online etiquette. However, speak to any primary school teacher at the moment and you’ll start to see why the problem starts so young. Speak to a secondary school teacher and find out how the parents’ Truman show is now negatively impacting their children as those once cute baby photos turn into playground ammunition.
Until us adults learn to multi-task responsibly in the virtual world as well as the real world, social media will I’m afraid create far more problems than solutions over the next few years. Throw in a crazed leader that was clever enough to use this virtual world as a home-made weapon available in the palm of your hand for good measure, and whilst we can’t put the genie back in the bottle, we might start thinking as a society how we teach it to behave.