How should we talk about Social Media’s Effects on Teens?

During this past week, Huffington Post, the online newspaper, posted an article entitled, “Social Media Makes Teens Aware Of Others’ Needs, Study Says”.  According to this study conducted by Harris Interactive 55 percent of teens (13-17) said that Facebook and Twitter “opened their eyes to what others are experiencing”. Furthermore, in this same study 91 percent “felt it was important to volunteer in the community”. In addition, 68 percent of the same teens surveyed agreed that “the benefits of social media outweigh the risks of being on these sites”. After listing all of the collected data, the article continues by informing the reader that many non-profit organizations have even recognized this trend and are now using their social networking site profiles to raise awareness and garner support for their causes. The article even goes on to share the story of a user of the popular site, Reddit, who was able to raise money for a bone marrow transplant for his girlfriend’s nephew through this online community.

After reading Baym’s book, Personal Connections in the Digital Age, it is easier to interpret the information presented within the article. This article is clearly supporting a technological determinist perspective of social media. This framing can instantly be seen in the title, which emphasizes that it is social media making teens more aware of their peers rather than teens using social networking sites to be more aware of what is going on among their peers. The problem with framing the article in a technological determinist perspective is that teens using these social networking sites are given no power, they are seen as merely being affected by the technology. In addition, by framing the article in this way the technology is taken out of any kind of social context. For anyone to truly understand the technology and its users we need the context for both. This article also seems to have domesticated social media with the use of the word “liking”. The beginning of the article mentions “liking” without explaining what this word functions as and which social media this function is attached to. There are probably many people, who do not use Facebook, that would not have understood the reference.

Although the article presents its information about social media in this technological determinist perspective there are other ways to frame the story. For one they could have framed technology using a social construction perspective, by showing how the creation of social media was a response to teens who wanted to become more aware of their peers and were interested in volunteering. Based on what I have learned so far from this class, I think that the best way to frame this article would have been by using the social shaping perspective. Through a social shaping perspective, the interaction between technological possibilities and social dynamics can be met and a better evaluation of the technology can take place. The Huffington Post could have talked about this study in a way that highlighted the technological affordances of social networking sites, specifically that they provide us with a way to communicate more efficiently and keep in touch with people we know, while at the same time emphasizing that we as a society find these site useful because we always try to find new ways to communicate and learn about others.

After this week’s classes and the study of perspectives, it was interesting to compare how this article framed technology and how the documentary Life 2.0 framed technology. This documentary showcased the lives of several users of the popular Second Life virtual game. The documentary illustrated various negative effects of this technology on the users such as divorce, theft, and addiction. In comparison, this article illustrated positive effects of technology, including increased awareness and volunteering among teens. Also, Life 2.0 showed the users of the Second Life virtual game as being extremely cut-off and distant from the rest of the world while this article details how technology has actually made people more involved with charities and aware of the people around them. Instead of being distant as the Second Life users were depicted, teens, according to this study, have become more likely to connect and want to help others through the use of social media. While overall the article seems to be promoting social media’s positive effects, there was one line that mentioned the risks of social networking sites. Just as in the documentary, it seems to be an assumed fact that there will always be risk when using any type of social media. Hopefully, one day this assumption can be erased and a more balanced discussion of social media technology can occur.

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1 Comment

  1. I liked the way you explained the article in 3 different contexts: technology determinism, social construction, and social shaping. It gives the viewer more than just a one-dimensional perspective. I agree with you that the article is framed in a technologically deterministic light, which can lead to many problems. From the example you brought up with the ‘liking’, I realized that a big part of society may in fact be technologically deterministic. This leads to a bigger problem of assuming everyone we meet (at least in the US) as being an active member of Facebook or at least knows what it is. I think most of us can admit that we’d be pretty surprised to encounter someone who is not on Facebook or never had an account (people in our generation, that is). It’s a bit scary thinking about how much technology and social media has shaped our everyday lives to revolve around them.

    Being that many of us agree that Life 2.0 displayed Second Life as a dangerously addicting game prone to destroying the close relationships in the physical world (being framed in a technologically deterministic way), would you say it’d be possible to depict the game with the same 3 players in a social shaping way? Since you mentioned that social shaping is a better way to convey technology more positively.

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