The dark side of social media

“Give me back the phone NOW,” the little three-year old huffed at her mom as she stamped her foot. “Give it to me now or I am telling Daddy to stop being best friends with you!”

Social media sites like Instagram allow users to create an alternate reality. (Pixabay)

Social media sites like Instagram allow users to create an alternate reality. (Pixabay)

Dr. Marion K. Underwood’s daughter’s temper tantrum shows that it doesn’t matter how young or old you are. Everyone wants to be on his or her phone. Refreshing the Instagram feed, checking likes on Facebook and retweeting tweets on Twitter is not only a teenage pass time. Social media is becoming an integral part of our lives.

Dr. Underwood highlights that social media has many amazing features and functions. However, the virtual conversations and connections have a powerful dark side that are not limited to just teenagers (or three-year olds).

Social Media is important

According to Pew Research Center, 91 percent of adults who are online use social media. Also the “average user of a social networking site has more close ties and is half as likely to be socially isolated as the average American.”

Social media is not only important to teenagers who feel the need to fit in, it’s important to adults as well. Adults use social media for their businesses. PR professionals know how useful social media is. They use it for marketing, developing relationships with key publics and creating an online brand and identity.

Social media behavior reflects real life behavior

Social media creates the ideal situation to say things to people that one wouldn’t normally say. In her studies, Dr. Underwood found that teenagers who engaged in online cyber bullying were more likely to participate in rule-breaking behaviors and non-virtual bullying. However, it isn’t just the teenagers calling each other ugly and nerdy.

Anti-cyber bullying associations usually receive more complaints from adults than adolescents. Most of those complaints come from businesses.

Forbes magazine put it this way, “Bullying today can include passive aggressive postings from competitors on blogs or walls. [It can include] negative comments on review sites…Customers perform social bullying when they don’t get what they want and start tweeting to complain instead of calling customer service to fix the problem privately.”

It’s important that PR professionals use respectful language online.  What is said on social media reflects the organization’s values.

Lurking on social media is perilous

Dr. Underwood’s most important findings involve social media lurking. PR professionals lurk by scanning through social media platforms in order to compare the organization they are representing to others. Dr. Underwood connects lurking on social media to distress.

Dr. Underwood found that comparisons between people or organizations on social media, left unnoticed, could cause serious depression. Another social media study found a link between social media activity and suicide. People of any age who spend a lot of time online are more likely to consider suicide.

As public relations professionals, we spend a lot of time on social media. It’s easy to compare our organization’s online progress to our own. It’s easy to get discouraged with online failures. Do we have the power to resist the dark side of lurking on social media?

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